Isserman Prize recognizes students for interfaith contributions

Rabinowitz, Rhoades co-recipients for 2012

Senior Hannah Rabinowitz and junior Colleen Rhoades have been named co-recipients of this year’s Rabbi Ferdinand M. Isserman Prize at Washington University in St. Louis.

The Isserman Prize recognizes a WUSTL student or students who have made significant contributions in leadership and service to ecumenical or interfaith activities, both on campus and in the wider community. Recipients are given $500 and honored at a reception.

The honorees:

Hannah Rabinowitz


Rabinowitz, a native of Albuquique, N.M., is majoring in earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences and minoring in economics. After graduation, she will attend graduate school at Columbia University.

During her student tenure, Rabinowitz launched two initiatives: a WU Challah for Hunger chapter and Pluralism Week. WU Challah is part of a nationwide initiative in which students bake Challah weekly and sell it on campus to raise awareness about social justice issues existing domestically and abroad.

Started in 2008, WU Challah for Hunger has engaged hundreds of students and an array of student groups, raising thousands of dollars to help alleviate hunger in St. Louis and support humanitarian efforts in Darfur in coordination with the advocacy work of American Jewish World Service.

Three years ago, Rabinowitz envisioned a culture of pluralism engagement on campus, which grew into the now-annual Pluralism Week.

Pluralism Week has provided a programmatic umbrella for nearly all of the faith- and cultural-based students groups to interact and share the distinctiveness of their cultural identities. Through Pluralism Week, Rabinowitz sought to celebrate diversity and highlight differences, including controversial issues that students might otherwise avoid.

As Rabinowitz prepared for graduation, she developed a legacy plan with underclassmen to take the reins of organizing Pluralism Week.

“Her accomplishments and community contributions have impacted the culture of Washington University in the areas of service, pluralism and a heightened sensitivity of those most vulnerable in our community,” says her nominator, Rabbi Andy Kastner of St. Louis Hillel.

“My hope is that Hannah’s leadership and her capacity to create space for new students to co-author the initiatives she began will continue to be features of the campus community for years to come.”

As social justice vice president for the Jewish Student Union, Rabinowitz also helped coordinate community service programs with Hillel.

Colleen Rhoades


Rhoades, from Libertyville, Ill., is majoring in biomedical engineering and electrical engineering and minoring in systems science and engineering.

Rhoades says she saw a need for more open dialogue among students and co-founded, with sophomore Gabrielle Dinkin, the Inter-Beliefs Council. The program began being offered through the Campus Y last fall.

The group meets every other week, offering a safe haven for students to ask questions and truly understand one another’s beliefs. Guest speakers representing wide-ranging belief systems are invited to speak at meetings, and the group also takes field trips to experience services of various religions.

“The co-founders did not limit the group to interfaith, but rather was more inclusive and expanded it to inter-beliefs,” says nominator Kathy Chen, a program director for the Campus Y. “Colleen has been a great asset to the Campus Y and to the dialogue among students on campus.”

In addition to co-founding Inter-Beliefs, Rhoades has served on the Campus Y Executive Council, which oversees the operation of 24 programs and more than 800 volunteers. She will serve as Campus Y student director next year.

The prize was established to honor the life of the late Ferdinand M. Isserman, the distinguished rabbi and author who was actively involved in social and interfaith issues locally, nationally and internationally.

For more information, contact Steve Ehrlich, associate dean for academics in University College, at (314) 935-4320 or