This summer, Andrew Goodman joined the Chaplaincy staff as the University of Richmond’s first director of Jewish life and campus rabbi. Charged with strengthening the sense of Jewish community on campus and supporting the Chaplaincy’s mission of promoting religious diversity, Goodman has jumped right in with lunch discussions among faculty and staff, planning events for religious holidays, and working with the Hillel student group to organize programs for the coming year.

Goodman talks about what it’s like to be a rabbi on a college campus and his vision for the Jewish community at the University.

How did you decide to be a rabbi?

I studied psychology and English and was thinking about maybe being a clinical psychologist or a high school English teacher, and I also was working as a youth group advisor. I realized that I wanted to work with and counsel people, but I didn’t want to be a clinical psychologist. I wanted to teach and educate and study, but I didn’t want to be in a public school system that didn’t allow religion as part of the conversation. And I wanted to be in the programmatic world, but saw that without the title of rabbi, without that education, there was a glass ceiling. So when I realized that the rabbinate would allow me to counsel and study and teach and program and work with people and enhance Jewish life, that was it. It was a no-brainer.

What made you decide to be a rabbi on a college campus versus at a synagogue?

Traditionally the rabbi is a scholar and a teacher, and that has always resonated for me. In a synagogue you have a lot of opportunities for classes and seminars, but in general, it’s not the central focus. The culture of the college campus is that of growth, of education. If I could, I would be a perpetual student, because I think that the endeavor of learning and growing — personally and professionally and mentally and spiritually — is one of the best things that you can do. That’s something that you don’t find in a lot of other venues, but you definitely do on a university campus.

What do you think about being the first director of Jewish life and campus rabbi at the University?

It’s daunting and it’s exciting. There’s something nice about having a structure that you can walk in to and know what is expected of you. When you are helping to shape a brand new position, it’s much more amorphous and you have to work a lot harder, but the positive side is you don’t have to live up to someone else’s vision. You get to shape a position in the current reality of the University. The other thing that’s nice about creating a new position is I didn’t take over for anyone — I just get to be a new layer in the already strong and vibrant chaplaincy.

What is your vision for Jewish life at the University?

First, within the Jewish population on campus, I hope to create a sense of community that spans [class] years, spans departments, and spans roles. So whether you’re a sophomore or a senior, whether you are in leadership studies or art, whether you are a grad student or an undergrad, or whether you are faculty and staff, [I want] all of those different people to come together and feel like they’re a part of a community.

The next piece that I hope to have is to increase visibility and acceptance and even work towards normalizing the Jewish experience on campus. Because it’s a historically Baptist chaplaincy, and it’s a predominantly Christian [campus] and a predominantly Christian country in which we live, it’s easy to have your Judaism exist within you as a personal identity, but not have it as part of your public identity. My hope is to let people know that they’re part of this supportive, greater community that accepts religious diversity.

I also want to work toward the chaplaincy’s vision of diversity of belief — to increase conversations and education about pluralism of faith, and to realize that there are different faiths represented on campus and in the world. To be sensitive to each other, to be aware of that diversity, doesn’t threaten your own faith. It can actually strengthen your own faith while affirming someone else’s faith and that’s part of the greater culture.