There’s always a lot going on at Tufts Hillel – celebrations, meetings, and learning. But what about in the post-graduate world? In this series, called “Where are they now?” we’re exploring life after Tufts Hillel, one alum at a time. This week, we’re talking to Mimi Kravetz A’01 about her connection to Judaism and journey to become the new Chief Talent Officer for Hillel International. The conversation was conducted over the phone and has been edited for readability.
Where are you right now in your professional life?
M: Right now, I’m in my first month on the job as the new Chief Talent Officer of Hillel International and I am opening our first West Coast office of Hillel International. Hillel International is the umbrella organization for all of the Hillels on all campuses around the world and the main office is in Washington DC, but as we lead into it, I’ve been living with my family in the San Francisco/Bay Area and chose with my family that we wanted to stay out here. Also this would be a wonderful move for Hillel International to be around the country just as all of our member organizations of Hillel are all over the country. And so, where I am right now is on my first month of the job as CTO and opening a West Coast office of Hillel International in San Francisco.
That’s amazing! How did you end up at Hillel International from Tufts?
M: So, let’s see, we’ll start out with Tufts Hillel. I went to Tufts as an undergraduate, double major in International Relations and Judaic Studies. I really thought I was going to go more in the International Relations direction after college… but when push came to shove a few other things weren’t feeling right. At that time, in 2001, I was thinking of going to Israel but a new Intifada was happening there, I was thinking about positions in Washington DC but I decided I didn’t want the administrative positions you have as a new grad. The person who was writing me all my letters of recommendation for these jobs was Debra Feldstein, who I had worked for as an undergraduate at Tufts, she was at the time the Development Director of Tufts Hillel (she’d recently become the Executive Director of the Hillel at Stanford). She was writing me all of these recommendations and she said to me “Mimi, you know, you could do all of these things or you could spend a year and come live in California,” which I had never done as I grew up on the East Coast, “and work for Hillel at Stanford.”
At that time the Stanford Hillel did not have a building, it was in the basement of the Old Union Clubhouse, they had a small staff, and they were going through a huge development campaign to raise money for this new building. [Debra] said [to me] you can build anything that’s right for our Jewish community [because] we want to build a program that’s big and meaningful enough to fill our building when people come in. So I took a job out in California as what was called a JCSC fellow, a Jewish Campus Service Corp Fellow It was a national fellowship programs for new grads to work at Hillel, I thought I was going to come out to California for one year, and here I am fifteen years later.
So I started working for Hillel right after college, had a fantastic first year as a JCSC fellow with a cohort of people from across the country, and at the end of the year I decided to stay. I actually spent three years during that time took on another role at Stanford as what we called a Jewish Student Life Coordinator. I ran Israel Programming and Social Justice Programming and I loved it. It was amazing work that was about meeting with students and figuring out who they were and then connecting them with each other and also creating experiences that worked for them. Most recently I worked for Google, even at Google I would tell people that the most fun job I ever had was at Hillel at Stanford, because my job was just to have coffee with people and get to know them; and as much fun as a place like Google is to work, it’s was not my full time job just to meet and get coffee with people.
The third year out in California, I had my job at Stanford I wanted to try and start a nonprofit organization that I had an idea for with a friend of mine and I was thinking of leaving Hillel but the director, Debra, who I moved out to work with said to me “Why don’t you just take a portion of your time and still work here and you’ll have a portion of your time to work on this project you want to work on?” So that also made it an incredible work environment that I had that flexibility. Starting the nonprofit was a total disaster mostly because we didn’t know anything about running an organization… We weren’t able to raise the money we needed to raise, we didn’t recruit the amount of people that the program thought we ideally would, and at the end of that experience I decided that if I wanted to be a leader in the nonprofit world I was going to need to get a business degree so I would know how to manage and run and lead an organization.
I applied to all of these schools not sure if I would get into anywhere because all I had was this nonprofit experience, but I actually ended up getting into a lot of schools and chose to go to Harvard Business School. So I went from Stanford with my at the time fiancé to Boston and went to Harvard Business School. In the beginning, I really believed that I was going to leave right away to go back into the nonprofit world but when I was there I realized how much I did not know and it became very apparent that just two years in school was not going to give me the experience I needed to go back and lead an organization… And so I decided I wanted to go into business. I realized that what I had loved about my first job at Hillel was interacting with people and understanding people and then creating things that work for them. That discipline was a lot like the corporate discipline of marketing, which is about being the person who understands and advocates for users and creates products that meet user needs and help users understand what’s exciting about a product and how to interact with it.
So I went into marketing and I worked for American Express, marketing in their small business division for three years; then my husband was done with the East Coast, he was not an East Coast person. He really wanted to move out back to California… and through a Harvard Business School alum I was able to get a job at Google, at that time doing small business marketing for Adwords, and over the course of my time at Google I had a couple of different jobs. The job I’ve had for the past three years now is working as the head of marketing for the group of Google called People Operations…For the last three years I’ve been leading marketing for HR which translates into it’s my job to tell people the story of work at Google, and why it’s important, and why you should come work there. In the last year, it was very much about figuring out what it is that’s so great about work at Google and we can teach it to other companies, an initiative called Re:Work. It’s about trying to help change the way people work across the world through using the best practices from Google and other companies. It was through that that someone suggested I connect with Hillel International because they’d been doing a lot of thinking about this area of People and Talent and how to become a great workplace. I was so excited – it became so clear that it was the right time to come back to the nonprofit world.
What has your Jewish journey looked like since leaving Tufts Hillel?
M: For me, Jewishly, I relate to many, many different types of experiences. I’m somebody who’s never felt like I fit in with the movement but that I love different things about all types of movements and services, and so I’ve always loved Hillel for that reason because by its nature it was diverse and pluralistic. Over the years, I’ve dipped in and out of many different Jewish experiences that were right at various times but never landed on any one thing. The very first thing I was part of when I was in the San Francisco area for three years after college was this “urban tribe.” We were a whole group of people who were post-college, and we’d get together in somebody’s living room once a month and make our own service and it was a little different every time and it was this vibrant, wonderful, connected Jewish community… And then in New York City we were part of B’nei Jeshrun (BJ). Then, when I moved back out to San Francisco I was part of a community called the Mission Minyan, which is a minyan that is organized by the people who are in it - there is no rabbi. Most recently, my Jewish identity has been about my children. I live in San Mateo, California now and even though we’ve lived here for the past three years, we haven’t yet been a part of any particular congregation. We’re planning to join one soon as my son is starting Kindergarten. In the meantime, So my Jewish identity has really been around creating a Friday night Shabbat experience in my home for my children and sending them to Jewish Pre-School. For where I am right now, when I think of my Jewish identity, it centers a lot on my kids, who are 3 and 5, and how they get the benefits of Jewish spirituality and culture and community that I’ve been really honored to be a part of the Jewish community.
What for you were those things that Hillel offered as a Jewish community that are important still in creating a Jewish identity for yourself and your children?
M: Something that I often think about from Tufts Hillel that embodies Friday night when I do it with my children - and I know everybody who knows Jeff Summit or has been to Tufts Hillel Services remembers this - is that every Friday night he would walk around at dinner and greet each person and say hi to these people and then he would get in front the group and he would say “It’s Shabbat, eat slowly.” What was really interesting to me was the significance of him pointing out that this is Shabbat, it’s different, you’re not running somewhere, there’s no pressure, you’re not running out to study group or class or whatever you might have been doing in college. One of the big things that I want for my kids I think of Friday night Shabbat experience is that it’s that different space. Many nights we’re rushing to get the lunches together for the next day. This is special. It’s something about it that really sticks with me from Tufts Hillel - that saying of “eat slowly.”
How did your experience at Tufts Hillel affect how you are today?
M: Some of the Jewish values that come to mind for me that are still really meaningful to me and part of my life are the ideas of social action and experience of other people. You know, respect and civility, of ongoing learning. Those are values of part of Tufts Hillel and part of what we’re doing at Hillel that really connect to who I am and how I do Judaism. One of the things I love about Hillel is that it’s a big tent in the pluralistic sense, it’s a place for openness and civility and dialogue around all different kinds of issues… It’s certainly something fostered if not learned at Tufts Hillel and it’s something that is still very true at Hillel International again today. And it’s just a part of who I am and how I interact with people – I love meeting different people and hearing really different perspectives. I go in always with an open mind and an open heart and a desire to understand and to learn and I think that’s one of the awesome things about Hillel’s role in the community is being welcoming.
Do you have any words of wisdom to your fellow Jumbos who have yet to graduate and are getting ready to enter the real world?
M: I love Tufts because I think Tufts students are incredibly smart, tend to be incredibly active in the world around them, and have a true desire to make a difference in the world. There are so many things in the world that are incredible out there to do. I don’t think it makes any difference what you choose to do first. I think people should go figure out something they're passionate about and just start doing it. Know that the opportunities are great and that there’ll will be many detours along the way but you’re going to create the professional experience and personal experience that’s right for you over time.