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You Can Call Him Rabbi Bruce

His official title may be Jewish chaplain to the college and adviser to the Jewish community, but to students and community members, he’s simply Rabbi Bruce, a moniker he encourages.

Bruce Bromberg Seltzer began as the college’s Jewish chaplain in July and spends a third of his time as Amherst College’s Jewish religious adviser. One of his early priorities -- besides becoming familiarized with the campus organizational structure and “trying to find my role,” he says -- is to make Smith a welcoming, inclusive place for all Jewish students.

“A large goal for me is to unify the Jewish community while retaining pluralism,” he says, comparing his vision to an orchestra in which a hundred diverse instruments combine to create exquisite art.

Seltzer, a drummer and percussionist with eclectic musical taste, analogizes his pursuit to music. “No one form of music is superior to another,” he wrote in the September issue of the Smith Hillel Newsletter. “No one form of Judaism is better than another. Campus life allows the full range of Jewish expression in a pluralistic environment.”

Seltzer estimates that Smith has between 160 and 200 Jewish students, most of whom are American. But within that group, he notes, is a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives and approaches to Judaism.

“Judaism is much broader than people think,” he explains. “Jews come from almost every country on earth. But many students have a narrow understanding of Judaism.”
Through events such as last month’s cross-disciplinary hosting of Eskesta, an Ethiopian Jewish dance troupe, as well as future sponsorships of lecturers and other activities, Seltzer hopes to “provide entry points to the community so people from different backgrounds can feel welcome,” he says.

Seltzer, who came to Smith from Duke University, where he served as campus rabbi, says he prefers the religiously and culturally diverse environment offered by liberal arts institutions like Smith. “One of the things that attracted me to this job was an opportunity to work in an interfaith community,” he says. “At the same time that we’re working within a community here, we’re also working among communities.”

Seltzer completed his undergraduate studies at Franklin and Marshall College, and received a master’s degree in Jewish studies and his rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He studied Advanced Jewish Studies at Jerusalem’s Pardes Institute and Machon Schechter and has served as Jewish chaplain and Hillel director at Drew and Hofstra universities.

As a chaplain and adviser at Smith and Amherst colleges, Seltzer tries to reach out to Jews on religious, cultural, spiritual and other levels. But whatever his role may be -- chaplain, adviser, spiritual leader, counselor -- you can just call him Rabbi Bruce.

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