Emory University rising senior David Kulp set some pretty lofty goals for himself and consistently achieved them. He was recently elected co-chair of Hillel International’s Student Cabinet and spoke with the AJT about his life and the journey to his newest role.
Kulp was raised in Potomac, Md., outside of Washington D.C., in what he called a “very liberal, modern Orthodox” community. His parents were very involved in both Jewish and civic life, and a Jewish education was paramount to them.
“I started out at preschool at Beth Sholom Congregation, and then attended a pluralistic Jewish day school from kindergarten through 12th grade,” Kulp said. “I found a really awesome Jewish community there.”
He grew up in a shomer Shabbat household, something he appreciates to this day.
“I found a lot of value in celebrating Shabbat and getting together as a community for 25 hours every week,” Kulp said.
His senior year of high school he traveled to Israel for three months with his grade, which graduated in February to enable the trip.
“I spent another two months in Israel volunteering at hospitals and with my family for my brother’s bar mitzvah,” he said. “Come July, I decided that I wanted to extend for another year.”
He spent the first half of the year learning at a Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, and the second half volunteering as a medic with Magen David Adom. He then returned to the U.S. to attend Emory.
“I knew that I wanted to be somewhere with a strong Jewish community,” Kulp said, “but I also wanted to be a big fish in a small pond. What I mean by that is that I knew Emory would give me opportunities to use my Jewish leadership skills and education to move into leadership roles.”
Academics played a part in his decision too, of course. Kulp especially appreciated his ability to meld his pre-medicine studies with those in humanities and beyond at Emory, and when he was finally on campus, it was no surprise where he made his first stop.
“Hillel was probably the first place I went for a move-in Shabbat,” he said. “It felt very familiar and it was an amazing environment. … In my second year I served as the chair of Jewish Life, so I organized a lot of High Holiday services and all of the education around holidays, in general.”
After his second year at Emory, Kulp applied and was elected to the Hillel International Student Cabinet with the hope of expanding his reach.
“I love Emory’s Jewish life, but I was ready for something a little bit larger,” he said. “There are a lot of Hillels in the world that don’t have the same resources, so I thought I could use a larger platform.”
As the lone representative from the Southeast that year, Kulp’s voice covered a wide area, beyond just Emory and even beyond Hillels of Georgia.
“We’re advising executive leadership on hot topics happening in Hillels, and we respond and work directly on various initiatives,” he said. “For example, this year I was working on HillelWell.”
It was a multi-faceted program that addressed wellness in many forms, from mental health awareness and resources to physical activity programs such as yoga classes.
Leadership roles are nothing new to Kulp, who also is associate director of Camp Possibilities for children with diabetes.
“There is no one more deserving to be part of national Jewish leadership than David,” said Rabbi Russ Shulkes, executive director of Hillels of Georgia. “Ever since he set foot on campus, he has endeavored to be an active participant of so many different communities and leave them all better than when he found them.”
In his final year at Emory, Kulp accepted the larger role on the cabinet.
“As co-chair, I head up all the initiatives and also sit as a student representative on the Hillel International board of directors,” he said. “We have a great, diverse and strong cabinet this year, and we want to use our reach to get even more support for our initiatives.”
While he is no longer involved directly with Emory’s Hillel, Kulp was a vocal Jewish voice on campus when recent anti-Israel protests took center stage, including mock eviction notices posted on dorm rooms by Students for Justice in Palestine.
“I was able to be a bridge between administrators and the Jewish community, and create a dialogue,” he said.
In its fourth year, the cabinet is still defining its role, and Kulp aims to be a part of that effort.
“Hillel International is an organization for students and by students,” he said.
“There’s a lot of potential for the cabinet, and all of its initiatives. … I think building relationships is especially important. Given that the cabinet is very young, we want students to have a strong voice.”