Written by Zachary Brenner
A new Hillel director has joined the UC Santa Cruz Family. Hillel is widely known as the center for Jewish life on campus. Sarah Cohen Domont, raised in Ventura, California, belonged to a very conservative synagogue until the age of 12, where she joined a reform synagogue after moving to a new town. It was there where she was able to read from the Torah as she became a Bat Mitzvah.
Growing up, she always loved the Jewish community and its sense of belonging, but did not see communal leadership as a career path. That changed when she was a senior in college and her mother died very suddenly. Considering law school, she bypassed that route to commit to a life of “doing good”. Her first job out of college was working with the homeless in San Francisco until she moved to Seattle, Washington and became a shelter counselor. She recalls working 24 hour shifts and being unable to sleep in her uncomfortable bed with a crucifix above her. She says she “felt Jesus talking to [her] at 3 o’clock in the morning”. It was then when she realized she wanted to work with Jews for a little while.
She applied for a job at the Federation of greater Seattle as a Development Associate. Just before she started working there, there was an attack on the Federation. A woman was killed and many more were injured. She had to make a decision: would she show up on Monday or retreat back to her old job as a shelter counselor. She decided to work for the Federation, where in her first fundraising job she helped raise over a million dollars for Jewish community improvement and education, as well as for Israel. She would work for the federation for sixth months until she met a local rabbi at Kol HaNeshama synagogue in Seattle. The rabbi was Michael Latz, and the synagogue very liberal. It was then that she felt she had a place in Jewish communal life. In fact, Latz encouraged Domont to become a rabbi, but being someone who “struggles with the concepts of the divine, [she] wasn’t spiritually prepared to be a rabbi”.
However, Domont regards rabbis as equal to Jewish educators and other communal leaders, and hopes to incorporate a rabbi in Santa Cruz Hillel to aid students with pastoral guidance and advice. She sees this as the way of the future for many Hillel’s: an Executive Director and rabbi working side by side with separate, focused responsibilities.
On campus, she has been incredibly impressed with how students involved with Hillel have owned the space. She remembers when she came to visit initially and a “Jewish student promptly walked into Hillel, plugged in his phone to some speakers, and started dancing”. She wishes to meet students where they are at, either physically or mentally, to ensure she is serving the community as best she can.
She has sensed many opinions from students regarding anti-semitic and anti-zionist sentiment on campus. Some say they feel safe, others unsafe. She says she is here to “support students wherever they fall on that spectrum”.
Ultimately, she is committed to the Jewish community and their allies. Domont is very enthusiastic and passionate about expanding Jewish educational content, given her Masters in Jewish Education and MBA in Nonprofit Management. She hopes to bring more content than might have been present before her time.