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I Want to Change the World by Working Across Lines of Differences

Hannah Berger

  • Practice Method:
    Management of Human Services
  • Scholarship:
    Shera Spar Dubitsky Scholarship Fund
  • Field Placement:
    Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County

At Kalamazoo College, Hannah Berger majored in Religion and minored in Anthropology. “I knew I wanted to help people,” she says, “but I needed to figure out how to do that in a practical way.” Fortunately, a Kalamazoo friend was applying to the U-M School of Social Work. “I had never thought of social work as a career path for me,” Hannah recalls. “I googled and found out that the field of social work is so much more than I thought. When I read about the management of human services concentration at U-M, as well as the Jewish Communal Leadership program, it just clicked. This was what I wanted to do. It was the perfect intersection of my passions.”

“The school of social work is so big, but having a small community of twelve in JCLP makes it feel homey.,” says Hannah. “The students in JCLP support each other. I feel like I have grown tremendously in just one short year.” Hannah especially praises JCLP’s director, Karla Goldman. “She’s a brilliant professor who is invested in teaching. She’s cares deeply about our personal and professional growth. She expects a lot from us so we expect more from ourselves.”

Of particular note for Hannah have been the inspirational Jewish women who she has gotten to interact with because of the program. Two notable examples are Heather Booth (“she called me to action in a way no one had before”) and activist April Baskin, who Hannah admires for her work to make the Jewish community more inclusive.

“My passion,” Hannah explains, “is finding common ground and understanding between different groups of people, when it seems like there is none. I come from an interfaith family. My mom is Catholic and my dad is Jewish. Growing up, I sometimes felt excluded by the Jewish community because of my identity. Lots of Jews have stories like mine- whether they only have one Jewish parent, are Jews of color, or are LGBTQ+. I want to work with communities to make them more intersectional and supportive of all of our identities.”

When asked her plans for the future, Hannah answered that she wants to work in Jewish non-profits that serve clients of all backgrounds. “You can do interfaith or intercultural work no matter where you are. It’s more a mindset than a specific job, but ideally I’d like to work at a Jewish organization dedicated to furthering progressive issues within and outside the Jewish community. For example, at my field placement at Jewish Family Services, many clients are Muslim or Christian, so even though it isn’t explicit, we are constantly doing interfaith work just by interacting with one another.”

To help with her studies, Hannah secured support from the Shera Spar Dubitsky Scholarship Fund. “I am so grateful for the Dubitsky scholarship,” she says. “It will help fund my summer placement at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs in Chicago. They do what I love—build diverse coalitions around progressive efforts. I wouldn’t have this opportunity other places. U-M is unique because we have the opportunity to do national field placements, and I would not get to participate if not for this scholarship. It’s amazing there are people like Shera Spar Dubitsky who are committed to supporting the next generation of leaders! It was a compliment to receive this support and a huge boost of confidence.”

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