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meet the staff

Our Team Members

Meet the staff who keep Illini Hillel running smoothly. 


Erez Cohen

Executive Director

Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Erez (he/his/him) has a BA in Political Science and an MA in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University. His professional experience includes working in a community center in Tel Aviv, volunteering as a Project Manager in East Africa, serving as the Israel Fellow at UIUC Hillel and fundraising for the Jaffa Institute. Erez is happily married and enjoys traveling (with around 20 countries and 20 US states under his wing), reading and writing Wikipedia articles in Hebrew. 

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Virni Bryson

Office Manager

Virni was born in St. Louis, Mo. and raised in Southeast Mo. for 10 years and has been a resident of Champaign-Urbana for over 30 years. She studied at Parkland College and started her career in office management. Virni worked as an Administrative Professional for Presence Health. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening with her husband and raising her two daughters. Virni also enjoys cooking for a small group of seniors who are no longer able to cook for themselves.


Rabbi Shmuel & Jackie Hauss

Rabbi Shmuel was born and raised in California. He received his BA in Judaic Studies from the University of California San Diego and his rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva University. He also studied in Shapell's Darche Noam for two years. Rabbi Shmuel loves to play board games and Magic, play music, and cook.

Jackie was born in Connecticut and has lived in six states and three countries! (Fun fact: one can apparently have a valid driver's license in three different countries at once.) She has a BA in Sociology from Landers College for Women (Touro College) in NYC. She has had the opportunity to delve into Judaic Studies in three seminaries, most recently Midreshet Rachel, as well as in other settings including World Mizrachi's Lapidot program. Jackie made aliyah (moved to Israel) in 2019 and studied in three ulpan programs (intensive Hebrew learning). Jackie loves bowling and going to the beach.

In 2020-2021, Jackie and Rabbi Shmuel participated in World Mizrachi's Shalhevet program to gain skills and knowledge to serve communities around the world, and in 2021-2022, they joined the Pardes Jewish Studies In-Service Teacher Training Program (JSITT) cohort to receive both systematic and progressive pedagogical training.

"We are excited to bring our Judaic Studies knowledge and educational background to UIUC in order to connect with students, learn about Jewish topics, and bond over coffee and good food! "


Eli Hartman-Seeskin

Springboard Fellow - Communications Manager

Eli (he/him/his) has always lived in the Midwest, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and raised in the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. He returned to Minnesota to attend the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, graduating with a double BA in Journalism and Jewish Studies, and a minor in modern Hebrew. Eli's undergraduate experience pointed him toward a career as a Jewish professional: in classes, at Hillel events, and even socializing among peers who had never had an extended conversation with a Jewish person, he learned to be unapologetic and enthusiastic about his own Jewish journey and identity.

Eli is thrilled to meet you and come up with new exciting ways to bring together Social Media and Jewish Life at the University of Illinois. He is a great person to talk to about video making, LEGO building, animal facts, card games, or the big questions about Judaism and what it means to you.


Limor Alkabetz

I grew up in a desert landscape within a small town overlooking the Dead Sea in Israel. As I grew older, I developed a deep appreciation for both nature and community. During high school, my interest in psychology and sociology grew, leading me to serve as a human resources officer in the IDF in Samaria for 2 years. Afterward, I found myself on a year-long solo trip, exploring the East and Europe. When I finally came back, I began studying sociology, anthropology, and management, aiming to delve into human-centric issues and innovative ideas.


Now, after I completed my degree, I'm excited to join your university with my beloved dog, Dapo, who is excited as well. I can't wait to meet new people and make friends along the way. 


Feel free to reach out to me anytime, and if you spot me on campus, don't hesitate to say hello!

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Carly Froomkin Burak

Assistant Director

Carly (she/her/hers) was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio.  She has a BA in Judaic Studies from the University of Cincinnati and an MA in Comparative Religion from Western Michigan University.  While studying for her degrees, Carly studied abroad in Israel (at Tel Aviv University), Japan and Egypt. She enjoys traveling, meeting new people, hanging out with friends, reading and music - especially classic rock. Carly is excited to continue meeting Jewish students and working with them throughout their own Jewish experience.


Rabbi Heather Paul

Senior Jewish Educator

Rabbi Heather (she/her/hers) lived on the West Coast her entire life until now (LA → Bay Area → Seattle ---> Champaign-Urbana). In addition to a new winter wardrobe, Rabbi Heather brings over a decade of Jewish communal and educational experience to this role; previously, she served as the Springboard Fellowship assistant director at Hillel International, and she worked at both Santa Cruz Hillel and Hillel at Stanford. Rabbi Heather holds a graduate degree in Jewish education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and she received rabbinic ordination from ALEPH Renewal Seminary. She is passionate about coffee, ritual design, deep conversations, and empowering creative Judaism. When she’s not engaged in any of the former, you can find Rabbi Heather reading, knitting, volunteering as a camp counselor and grief counselor, and going on walks with her husband, Joseph, her daughter, Ella, and their labradoodle, Gulliver. Follow Rabbi Heather on her Instagram account @thetiedyerabbi.

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Eric Blatt

Engagement Director

Eric (he/his/him) was born and raised in Owings Mills, Maryland, and is a first-generation American with family originally from Ukraine (the former Soviet Union). He attended Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania where he received a BA in Labor and Employment Relations, as well as a minor in Jewish studies. During his time at Penn State, he became very involved with the Jewish community as well as Israel advocacy and traveled to Israel 5 times. After leaving Penn

State, he moved to Jerusalem for 9 months to study at Aish HaTorah where he spent his time learning and helping new students find their own personal connection to Judaism. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, cooking, and the occasional game of Settlers of Catan.


Lauren Appel

Springboard Fellow -  Program Associate

Lauren (she/her) was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She recently graduated from Indiana University- Bloomington where she majored in Jewish Studies and minored in Nonprofit Management and Youth Development. During her time at Indiana, Lauren studied abroad at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the Nachshon Project. This experience along with her involvement in USY and the summers she spent at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin both as a camper and then as a staff member have inspired Lauren to pursue a career in experiential Jewish education.


Before joining the Illini Hillel team, Lauren spent 3 years working as the Regional Intern for CHUSY, Chicagoland's USY Region, and 5 summers working at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, most recently as a Division Head. Both of these organizations showed Lauren the importance of developing a personal Jewish identity, and she strives to help others develop their own identity as she continues to work in the Jewish world.

Interested in full-time employment opportunities?

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