Exploring your faith and others
Union College values religion as a crucial part of cultural diversity and our social identity. We recognize the diverse religious worldviews and beliefs we have amongst our Union community members and we are dedicated to building religious fluency among students, faculty and staff. Our goal is to provide students with the opportunities to explore their faith and spirituality as well as offer students multiple platforms to learn about other traditions through programming and interfaith dialogues.
Multiple religious and spiritual groups thrive on campus, and the College has several faith leaders/advisors (listed below) to offer guidance and support to students.
Bonnie Cramer, Director of Hillel
For the last 20 years, Bonnie Cramer has been on the Union College campus at Hillel. She loves learning about other people’s spiritual journeys and is particularly interested in Kabbalah and other mystical traditions.
Certified as a spiritual director (Mashipia’ah Ruchanit) by Aleph: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal, Cramer brings her spiritual counseling expertise to campus.
Cramer graduated magna cum laude from Brown University. She is currently a part-time student at the Academy for Jewish Religion. She co-led the art and spirituality workshop for the Greater New England Jewish Women's Retreat for over a decade. She was invited by Temple Israel in Natick to serve as Scholar-in-Residence to teach Kabbalah. She has also taught a segment on Jewish mysticism in a Union philosophy class and guest taught in the Religious Studies Program about Jewish dietary laws.
Cramer worked for 14 summers at Camp Ramah New England, where she supervised the special programs staff and taught for eight years in the community Midrasha. In 2016, she was recognized for outstanding volunteer services to Union College and the Schenectady community.
In non-Covid times, Cramer enjoys putting on a chef’s jacket and working with students to prepare Shabbat dinner – which is open to all.
Genghis Khan, Muslim student adviser
Genghis Khan has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering with B.S. minors in Applied Mathematics and Economics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He has been with GE Global Research since 1991 where he’s currently a Senior Principal Engineer. Consistent with the “Renaissance-style” scholarship, he is also educated in The Qur’an and its interpretation, Textual Analysis in Qur’anic Arabic, Hadith Methodology, and the Principles & Branches of Islamic Jurisprudence.
Since 1995, he has been the Imam at the Schenectady County Jail and a consultant on Islamic issues to several jails in surrounding counties. He has been speaking on Islam and Muslims over the past thirty years at various religious, interfaith, educational, and corporate venues. Since 1999, he's taught an advanced Arabic and Islamic Studies class to teenagers at the Islamic Center of the Capital District. From 2002-2011 he had served on the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission, being its Chair for the latter half of that period. From 2003-2006 he served on the Interfaith Community of Schenectady’s Council and received the James Stamper Community Service Award in 2009. From 2010-2016 he served on the Board of Directors of Bethesda House – a key homelessness prevention organization in Schenectady in capacities as Treasurer and culminating as Board President. Since 2015, he’s been the Adviser to the Muslim Students Association at Union.
His main Islamic perspectives can be summarized as the foundational prevalence of the definitive Qur’anic Principles of Monotheism, Universal Justice, Kindness/Compassion, Generosity, and the avoidance of their opposites. This invariably leads to more emphasis on values-based spirituality rather than just dogma and rituals; is kept alive by continuous interpretation of the Qur’an as opposed to an imitation of previous historical/cultural interpretations. These perspectives then lead to joining hands with all those in the world that seek Justice/Fairness/Equality/Inclusion, Kindness/Compassion, and Generosity; and will work together to peacefully achieve them for all.
Timothy (Tim) Coombs, Protestant chaplain
Tim Coombs stepped into the position of Campus Protestant Minister in September 2019. Prior to this he has served, and still does, as co-pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Scotia with his wife Kathy Gorman-Coombs. Tim was born and raised in suburban Long Island. He received his BA at SUNY Geneseo, his M.Div at Princeton Theological Seminary, and his D.Min at United Theological Seminary. Tim and Kathy are parents of two sons, one who lives in the area and the other is a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, NY.
Tim is the President of the Network of Biblical Storytellers International, (NBSI),which both “encourages people to learn and tell biblical stories” as well as educate about the oral nature of the Bible. He is also a trained coach by International Coaching Federation (ICF), and uses this skill in his work.Locally, Tim is an active member of the Schenectady Clergy Against Hate (SCAH), an interfaith gathering that seeks to counter hate and injustice with love and understanding. He is also an active member of Schenectady Community Ministries, which serves as an advocate for the poor and minority members of the area. Above all, Tim looks forward to becoming a companion to Union students as they travel on their spiritual journeys.
Shmuly and Laiky Rubin, co-directors of Chabad
The fourth of ten children, Laiky was born in Jerusalem and was raised in Montreal, Canada. She spent her elementary and high school years at Beth
Rivkah Academy where all the General Studies were taught in French. In fact, she is fluent in four languages: English, French, Hebrew and Yiddish. Upon completing high school, Laiky went on to pursue a degree in special education in Israel. She dedicated one semester of her learning to extended fieldwork and traveled to Riga, Latvia where she coordinated Jewish programs for all ages ranging from preschoolers to college students. Laiky then moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., taught on the Upper West Side and met Rabbi Shmuly. She went on to teach students with special needs at Yeshivah of Flatbush.
Rabbi Shmuly was born and raised in Albany, New York. His studies took him from Toronto to Manchester, U.K., Brooklyn to California, and finally to Melbourne, Australia where he received his rabbinic ordination. Once married, Rabbi Shmuly taught at a Yeshivah in Brooklyn. He managed the operation of www.hebrewbooks.org, digitizing and preserving over 13,000 old Hebrew books, in addition to serving as the junior editor of Jewish-Holiday.com, an informative Jewish magazine. Rabbi Shmuly is a teacher of Chassidic philosophy and mystical Judaism and loves the intricacies of the Talmud.
Inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe's call to reach out to every single Jew, regardless of their background and affiliation, and instill Jewish pride and awareness, Rabbi Shmuly & Laiky chose to join the network of 165 worldwide Chabad on Campus centers and work with the Jewish community at Union College. Their strong educational backgrounds enable them to serve the address for Jewish learning at Union. As a family, Shmuly, Laiky and the boys, Mendel and Yitzchak, are happy to open the doors of the Chabad House to Jewish students and serve as a "home away from home" for them.
Together with the dedicated student board of the Union Chabad Jewish Student Group, they are doing everything to create a vibrant Jewish life at Union.
David Stagliano, Roman Catholic student adviser
Born and raised in Mechanicville NY, he enjoys cooking and traveling as his time allows and being involved in works of mercy and service with young people as a means of living out their call to serve others. David attended the College of Saint Rose where he was actively involved in Campus Ministry and Student Government. He received his bachelor’s degree from Saint Rose in business administration, with a concentration in finance and economics. After 18 years working in the financial field, and many years as a volunteer in the world of youth ministry he was invited to a full-time youth ministry position at St. Vincent DePaul parish in Cobleskill N.Y. It was here that he was able to make use of his finance background by coordinating the parish’s finance and administrative tasks, as well as facilitating the parish’s adolescent catechetical/youth ministry program. He also was part of the parish’s pastoral team that also was responsible for a Catholic presence on the campus of SUNY Cobleskill. After seven years in Cobleskill, he moved on to a full-time youth ministry position at Our Lady of Grace parish in Ballston Lake N.Y. After two years at OLG, David was offered a position at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany as the associate director of youth and young adult ministry. David has studied in the Masters of Pastoral Studies program at St. Mary’s University, Winona M.N. and since 2015 has been given the responsibility of the associate director of Diocesan College Campus. The diocese appointed David to Union College as an adviser to Roman Catholic students in the summer of 2017.
Jessica Munn, InterVarsity Advisor
Jessica Munn was born and raised on Long Island in the town of Hicksville, NY. She left the suburbs to go to college at Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY where she graduated with a degree in Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering. Throughout college, Jessica was heavily involved with the joint Clarkson and SUNY Potsdam InterVarsity chapter. She filled leadership positions including prayer meeting coordinator, small group leader, and chapter president. Jessica also founded and coordinated the Conversation Partner Program which was a program that encouraged cross-cultural friendships and helped international students practice English. By day, Jessica works full-time as a cognizant engineer in Schenectady but by night (and during her lunch breaks), Jessica is the InterVarsity volunteer staff at Union College. She has been volunteering at Union since the Fall of 2017.
Jessica’s favorite thing about volunteering on campus with InterVarsity is seeing students encounter Jesus through the bible and watching students with different Christian denominational backgrounds come together for bible study and musical worship. She has a background in the Catholic, Protestant, Conservative Baptist, non-denominational, and four C’s denominations/affiliations. Other things Jessica enjoys include Ultimate Frisbee, playing her djembe (African hand drum) or Cajon, ice skating, arts & crafts, kayaking/canoeing, reading, and eating good food.
Dr. Erika Nelson-Mukherjee, Buddhist Student Advisor
Dr. Erika Nelson-Mukherjee is an associate professor of German at Union College.
Erika M. Nelson-Mukherjee is an Associate Professor of German Studies here at Union College, having completed my undergraduate education in English and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College and my graduate education in German Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research has focused primarily on poetry and the role of myths and rituals in contemporary literature, culture, and film. Increasingly, she has become interested in innovative humanistic and experiential educational approaches, and most recently, She has pursued graduate studies in the field of Clinical Psychology and Psychology of Education with a specialized focus on spirituality at Teachers College Columbia University’s Spirituality Mind Body Institute.
From Dr. Nelson-Mukherjee - "I love Union, and I am excited to support students, staff, and faculty here at Union College as a Buddhist spiritual advisor. I consider myself a lifelong spiritual seeker and have actively engaged in spiritual, meditation, body-oriented somatic, and contemplative practices for the last 25 years. I have also been a practicing Buddhist for over 13 years and a leader in my Buddhism organization for the last several years. I find that my sustained spiritual practice enhances and contributes to my life both personally and professionally in a myriad of meaningful and mystic ways. I look forward to working with the Union students and community and contributing to the greater dialogues regarding religion, spirituality, and Buddhism here at Union College."