Sara Evangelista used to work for Hillel International, but she moved into a position at Johns Hopkins Hillel to focus on what Hillel really does: working with students.
Evangelista, who turns 27 on May 15, is the program director at Hopkins Hillel. She lives in Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., and commutes to Baltimore for work. She is also involved in Young Leadership of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
She grew up in New Jersey, where she was involved in BBYO and served as chapter president. She attended George Washington University, where she majored in sociology with minors in Jewish studies and communications, and attended Jewish Theological Seminary for a master’s in experiential education and educational leadership.
Was Judaism a big part of your upbringing?
Yes, it was a unique part of my upbringing I would say. I come from an interfaith family, and when my family moved from Staten Island to central New Jersey many, many years ago, we tried to join one of the synagogues in the town, and that synagogue wouldn’t accept my family because my dad was not Jewish, but Chabad in the town would, so we became members and joined the Chabad. For the first 17, 18 years of my life, that was the only Judaism that I knew and I was exposed to. It was a really cool dual identity to really only know Orthodox Judaism, but also then be at home with my family and have a big Italian Christmas Eve celebration and Easter and have a Christmas tree and all of those things.
I’m Jewish, and I’m proud to be Jewish, but I really value that I grew up in an interfaith home, that my father, who is not Jewish, embraced my Judaism but also made sure that I had memories and cultural traditions with him that I also really value.
When did you first become exposed to other kinds of Judaism?
I went to a large, public high school and graduated with a handful of other Jewish students. When I started in high school, my mom really insisted that I needed more Jewish friends and dragged me, kicking and screaming, to a BBYO chapter meeting in the town, and I begrudgingly went and came out an hour later and was like, “Wow, I loved this.” … When I joined BBYO in high school, I began to understand this broader network of ways to do Jewish and be Jewish and express your Jewish identity, and I was totally hooked because someone had embraced me in a kind of untraditional way.
How did you come to work at Hopkins Hillel?
I moved to New York City to start my master’s at JTS. I was there for a year and then moved back to Washington, D.C., where I finished my degree online over the next two years. During those two-ish years, I was working at Hillel International on their conference and events team and planning our annual staff gathering and our new professionals onboarding conference, and doing that full time while I was also going to school. The program was already offered completely online, so I tell my students now that I was an online student before it was the globally necessary thing to do. … I was working at Hillel International for about two years, I finished my master’s and then I really just thought that, what Hillel does — I really loved Hillel International and I loved my team — but what Hillel does is work with students. To be able to do that, I needed to be on campus working with students, and that was what pushed me to work at Johns Hopkins.