Matt Rissien, formerly of Overland Park, Kansas, was recently nominated for Double Chai in the Chi, Chicago’s Jewish 36 under 36 list. Nominees were selected for making a difference in their work and are leaders within the Jewish community.
In 2011, Rissien graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in religious studies and a concentration in Judaic studies. After being actively involved in KU Hillel, Rissien’s passion to become a Jewish professional solidified. Upon graduation, Rissien landed a job in Greensboro, North Carolina where he worked as a residential fellow at the American Hebrew Academy, a co-ed pluralistic college preparatory Jewish boarding high school.
In July 2012, Rissien accepted the position of Director of Youth Activities at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, Illinois. He is responsible for engaging the younger generation at the synagogue. He is also in charge of running the USY chapter.
“I applied for the job because I knew I wanted to work in Jewish programming and I really enjoy working with teens and developing them into leaders,” said Rissien. “Through KU Hillel and other Jewish organizations I have been involved with, I was able to learn a lot about leadership and programming. This is a way for me to pass on what I have learned to younger generations. Every day I’m learning something new and growing. The ability to learn and improve in what I do is something that has really driven me.”
“In this position, you don't always immediately see the results; so it's hard to know if you truly are making a difference. Over time though, by becoming part of this synagogue's community and hearing stories and comments from parents, you start to realize you are making a difference. Getting kids to enjoy going to synagogue is sometimes tough, but once you get them there, it really means a lot.”
After six years at KU Hillel, including serving on committees, internships and creating Israel Week, Rissien shared the impact KU Hillel had on him.
“KU Hillel provided me with so many tools, which I am now using as the Director of Youth Activities. I did not realize how much knowledge I had gained from being in Hillel. When I was being interviewed for this job, I found myself constantly going back to examples of programming experiences I gained through Hillel. Hillel evolved quickly into one of the best organizations on campus, and I was fortunate to be at KU long enough to see it really grow. During my senior year, I thought about all the involvement I had in Hillel going all the way back to freshman year. I changed a lot over those years, and I think part of the reason I developed into where I am today was because Jay Lewis was there for me to go to for advice, and to help me grow and mature. Through my experiences with KU Hillel and the Jewish Studies courses I took at KU, I have decided to pursue a Masters in Jewish Professional Services at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies in Chicago next year.”