Bryanne Mahoney graduated from Northeastern in 2009 with a double major in Jewish Studies and History and an MA in History. We recently spoke with her about the relationship between her Northeastern experience and her current work at Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies.
A recently released survey found that a growing number of young American Jews base their Jewish identity on ancestry, ethnicity and culture rather than on religion. Long before this survey was released, Bryanne Mahoney and her co-workers at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (Boston’s Jewish Federation) were working full time to make sure that identification turns into a strong connection to the Jewish community in Boston.
For the last two years, Mahoney, 27, who was Northeastern’s first Jewish Studies major, has been working on Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Young Adult Initiative. As a Senior Program and Development Officer, she has been working with CJP’s volunteer leaders to raise money and awareness among the young adult community. Mahoney said she seeks to “connect and engage them with the work of CJP and our partners in the community.”
Her team makes that connection in a non-traditional way. “We turn the involvement model on its head, something totally unique for the federation movement,” Mahoney said. Mahoney said her team recognized – as the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project released Oct. 1 confirmed – that “going to services or keeping kosher may not be a relevant concept to a lot of young Jewish adults.” Her goal therefore is to “meet them where they are,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney credits her Northeastern experience with enabling her to get a job after graduation and preparing her for her current work. “Competing with students from other universities with blank or very bare resumes, while I had three co-op positions, great references, and knew how to dress for an interview was a huge help in getting hired,” Mahoney said. It also provided her with an advantage in her current position. “Northeastern’s focus on bridging the town/gown divide forced me outside of the dorm and our campus, a huge bonus as I work to engage the broader young adult community,” she said. Mahoney added: “I’ve lived and worked amongst Bostonians for years.”
Mahoney said being the first Jewish Studies major and having to figure out what would work best for her academically also helped. “I definitely think my past and current employers saw the initiative I was encouraged to take as a positive,” she said.
During her senior year, Mahoney took a Jewish Studies class with Prof. Jenny Sartori in which she was introduced to a CJP official whom she later contacted. Mahoney’s first post-graduation job was at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, CJP’s social justice and public policy partner. She coordinated volunteer programs, including a service learning program for Hebrew school students and a broader community program for adult literacy tutors in under-served public schools around Greater Boston. “It was important to me to be involved in an organization that helps people volunteer and give back and make their community stronger,” Mahoney said.
She then joined the CJP itself. “It was time to move to the organization that has the leverage, connections, and funding to solve the big issues facing our community, in Boston and abroad,” Mahoney said.
For all the real-world experience Northeastern afforded, Mahoney’s only regret about her time at the university is that she didn’t “take classes completely outside of my majors or comfort zone.” She said she wished she “had taken an engineering class, or a more serious math or science class, instead of just trying to satisfy my core requirements.”
Mahoney advises current Jewish Studies students to take as many classes as they can and to appreciate being at an institution with a diversity of opinions. “Northeastern has been all over the Jewish news recently for giving too much space to those who aren’t pro-Israel,” Mahoney said. “Be grateful you’re on a campus that values protest and the unpopular opinion. Always remember how important is it to listen to those saying something different than what you think you know to be true. But never be afraid to be one of those voices speaking up too. The world is not changed by quiet, unassuming individuals. Make noise.”
As for Mahoney’s plans, she said she would like to “take the skills I’ve acquired throughout my career thus far and apply it to the broader community.” Mahoney sees her current organization, however, as dynamic, “as the model of what it means to engage Jewishly is constantly evolving.” She concluded: “Being a part of that conversation is a very exciting notion to me, and as I grow in my career, I get closer to the place of shaping that conversation rather than responding to it.”
Read the rest of the Haverim Fall 2013 Newsletter here.