It’s a brand new week and we are back with another edition of Meet A Deac. Today we are featuring Gail Bretan, who is one of the most energetic and upbeat people I am privileged to know.

Gail Bretan, Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life, Office of the Chaplain, Wake Forest University, Tuesday, February 27, 2018.Gail, thanks for agreeing to do this. Let’s start at the beginning – tell me your title and a little about your background.
I am the Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life. I started my job at Wake on January 6, 2014 – so in just a few days, that will complete my 7th year here. I have a BS in Elementary Education from Temple University, a BBA (Business Administration) from Northwood University, an MS in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Arizona, and a Ph.D. in Educational Studies with a concentration in Cultural Foundations of Education from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

That’s my doctoral alma mater too! And you’re in school again now, correct? 
Yes, I am pursuing Rabbinical ordination right now at The Academy for Jewish Religion.

While you are the Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life, you also interact with students of any faith background (or none at all), yes?
Yes. I am the official Jewish mom to the entire Jewish and non-Jewish community. I provide pastoral care for all situations – from roommate issues to spiritual exploration. I program events, including interfaith events, special speakers, and holiday celebrations. It’s my joy to be a resource to the WFU Rosenblatt Family Hillel, the Jewish Student Organization, doing everything from fundraising, sharing ideas, supporting the board, cooking, connecting to other WFU offices and departments, and so forth. I sit on 12 different Wake committees and am the chair of the Global Food Committee, which seeks to celebrate our diversity and understanding through food.

What do you like best about working at Wake?
The STUDENTS! They are amazing! And the future leaders of our world! They give me hope every day!

COVID has changed a lot of our day to day responsibilities this year. How has it impacted your work?
Jewish student gatherings are usually about being social and eating, so COVID has eliminated these natural outlets for our students to meet and interact with each other. In-person events have been very limited on campus, and students have “Zoom fatigue” so they don’t want to attend Zoom events, especially after being on their computer all day in class and studying.

In terms of new projects and new roles, Hillel International has created Hillel@Home with innovative programming and national known speakers (and cooking demonstrations) for students to be with other students from around the world. We also now have an Israel Fellow on campus, Orr Grosman. Orr is an expert in creating meaningful dialogues between people of all religious, social, racial, and political backgrounds.

What has been one of your challenges with COVID?
Walk-abouts! I usually walk around campus at least once a day to greet people, introduce students to each other, give hugs, listen to issues, eat in the Pit, and smile. I really miss giving hugs and giving smiles. With masks covering faces, sometimes I don’t recognize people, and that is even when my glasses don’t fog up 🙂 But let’s also talk about what is working: having more one-on-one conversations or small gatherings with students, handing out Challot on Friday nights in Hillel backyard. Those small things make an impact.

Large dinner gathering of Jewish studentsRelated question: tell me what you miss most about normal life at Wake.
Large and fun Shabbat dinners.

So what advice would you give students if they asked?
Check your emails and social media feed and attend programs that seem interesting, even if they are on Zoom. Join even if you don’t know anyone. Get out of your room and take a daily walk. Attend office hours every once in a while, even if you are not struggling, so you get to know faculty and staff. Read a funny story or meme or watch a funny video at least daily.

“Laughter is the best medicine” is one of my favorite mottos. And let’s flip here – what advice would you give Wake families?
The same advice I followed when my boys were in college: remember to take a deep breath, because you set a great foundation for your student and now is the time for them to become their own person. Call only once a week, and don’t chat over 30 minutes. Sign up for as many newsletters as possible so you will be up-to-date on happenings at Wake. If you see something your student might be interested in, let them know – but don’t nag them. I personally think college is more difficult for the parents and families than for the students. 🙂

And now we come to my favorite part: the quick response, lightning round questions.

Book you are reading now: I am participating in the worldwide Talmud Daf Yomi, in which one reads the entire Talmud, one page at a time, in a seven and a half year cycle commitment. My family, and many of my Jewish and non-Jewish friends, are also part of this Daf Yomi experience.  [Wow, that is incredible!]

a young Dolly PartonPreferred or favorite music: I like all genres of music, but during COVID I have been re-visiting the 60s through the 80s – from folk to disco to country to rock ‘n roll. Traveling Wilburys. Dolly Parton. Joni Mitchell. Simon & Garfunkel. Peter, Paul & Mary. Bob Dylan. Steve Winwood. The Beatles.

TV shows, movies, Netflix, etc: I don’t have time or inclination to watch TV or shows, but I love a good romantic comedy every once in a while if you have a recommendation.

Websites you visit often: Lots of Jewish websites (contact me for my list – you can find me on our Jewish Life website, and you can also sign up for our weekly e-newsletter). The Forward has had some really amazing articles – capturing the whole spectrum of Jewish and world viewpoints.

bubble bathGuilty pleasures: Bubble baths. Monthly therapeutic massages.

Introvert or extrovert? Extrovert. I am energized by being with people. The rest of my nuclear family are introverts and they are delighted to be home during this pandemic.

Something most people don’t know about you:  We moved to North Carolina 16 years ago when Hurricanes Jeanne and Francis blew the roof off our house in Florida. We love our adopted state of NC.

What will be the first thing you do when the pandemic is over and we can live normal lives again?
Give hugs to all my students!

What question didn’t I ask that you want to answer?
You could ask me: “What is your most important value?” and I would reply with: “Being a lifelong learner! I learn everyday from our students, and I am honored to be on this 4-year journey with them!”

Thanks so much, Gail, for sharing your story and for all you do for our campus community.

As we close out today, will leave you with another treat from our photo archive. Enjoy these beautiful luminaries!

Luminaries line Hearn Plaza on the campus of Wake Forest University on Sunday, December 8, 2019, to honor the more than 5000 individual donors to the Wake Will Lead campaign.

— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)

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