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Rabbinic rotation: Ponet to retire
after 32 years as Jewish chaplain

In the life of the Jewish people, 32 years is the blink of an eye. But in the span of Jewish life at Yale, it's a chunk of time—a chunk that Rabbi Jim Ponet ’68 has filled as the university's Jewish chaplain.

Now Ponet, the first Yale alum to serve in that role, is beginning a transition away from it. His first-ever sabbatical will begin in January and will end 18 months later with his retirement.

In the meantime, the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life—which houses Yale Hillel and serves as a community center for Jewish students and many of their non-Jewish friends—has hired a new executive director and senior Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Leah Cohen. Coming from a pulpit in Connecticut after a first career in the corporate world, Cohen "has my full-hearted blessing and support" as she leads the Slifka Center "into its next illustrious phase," Ponet writes in an e-mail to Slifka supporters.

Ponet, who became "enchanted" with traditional Jewish observance while a Yale undergraduate, returned to campus in 1981 as a young rabbi.

"When Jews at Yale had barely any place to call their own, at an institution with a history of admission quotas, it would have been easy to scorn a rabbinical post at Yale as futile," writes David Slifka ’01, president of the center's board of trustees. "But Rabbi Ponet saw the future: a partnership between one of the world's elite intellectual centers, and a people dedicated to learning and the expansion of knowledge. . . . Rabbi Ponet took our community from the basement of Bingham Hall (where the office was located) and the Young Israel building (where Shabbat dinners were held) to a warm, spacious, comfortable, 21st century 'home away from home.'"

Indeed, Ponet notes that the Slifka Center's groundbreaking took place at the 25th reunion of his Yale College class of 1968. Two decades later, the center "as building and as institution confirms our sense that to be a Jew today is to be fully engaged and involved in the world."

When his sabbatical ends in July 2015, Ponet will become the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain Emeritus. David Slifka's e-mail says the coming fall will bring a series of events in Ponet's honor, "in New Haven and beyond."

Filed under Slifka Center, Jim Ponet, Jewish life
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