New executive director of UI Hillel Foundation hopes to engage more students
Open, engaging and connected
The roles of teacher, mentor, faith leader, community member and manager all fall under one title at the University of Iowa Louis Shulman Hillel Foundation: executive director.
David Weltman has been holding that title for a few weeks since taking over on July 11. He’s been busy planning student events, strategizing with the board of directors, talking with other Jewish student groups around the state and redecorating the space, among other things.
“It’s a balancing act — I wear a lot of hats,” Weltman said.
And he’s also got a few goals up his sleeve.
“There are a lot of opportunities for growth and engagement,” Weltman said, adding that he wants the organization to be open, engaging and connected to the community within the university and Iowa City area.
One area of growth is set to be completed before students return. Weltman is working on small building fix ups to improve the lounges, Judaic library, chapel, industrial-sized kosher kitchen and cafeteria, study spaces and multipurpose room that make up the Hillel building, located at 122 E Market Street in Iowa City.
His hope is that the new furnishings make the space more welcoming and provide students the resources they need to come to the foundation on a regular basis.
“It was the goal of the founders to have this used on a regular basis,” he said.
His goal is to have more than 100 students attend the weekly Shabbat dinners, where students can learn more about various Jewish studies. The dinners, he said, are an important way for students to engage with Hillel — after all, that’s how he got involved with the foundation.
Working on his MBA for the last two years, Weltman attended various Shabbat dinners at Hillel as a student. But he was active in the Jewish community years before coming to Iowa.
After being told he read from the scroll beautifully at his bar mitzvah, he began tutoring other young boys for their bar mitzvahs when he was 15-years-old. He became even more invested in Judaism when he went to Chicagoland Jewish High School.
“It just grew into a passion of mine,” Weltman said.
That passion is something he hopes UI students will find in Hillel — even if they don’t practice Judaism. Shabbat dinners are meant for students that have grown up with Friday dinners, students who’ve never engaged with Jewish traditions and students anywhere in between, he said.
“You don’t need to be Jewish — you can come here no matter where you find yourself on the spectrum,” Weltman said.
He didn’t imagine that his involvements would grow into a career, he said, but he hopes his past engagement with Judaism and business education will aid him in his role at Hillel.
Being a recent graduate and having only been in Iowa City for two years, he has big shoes to fill, but sees it as an opportunity to bring new energy to the organization, he said.
“I look forward to learning more about the community,” he said.