Staff Spotlight: Erika Hillinger, Director of Marketing and Communications
Erika Hillinger has been a part of the Long Beach Jewish Community since she moved here in 1991. She grew up in Bakersfield, CA and knew only one other Jewish family. Her uncle sent her to Israel when she was 16, and the rest is history. When she went to UCLA for her undergraduate degree (World Literature, including Hebrew lit), she became an active member of UCLA Hillel, the Jewish Union, Israel Action Committee, and lived in the Westwood Bayit, a kosher and shomer Shabbat Jewish Co-op. When she graduated, she decided that she would like to continue her Jewish studies and entered a dual Ph.D. program in Social Ethics and Religion at USC/Hebrew Union College. While at USC, to pay her tuition, she taught English 101 in USC’s Freshman Writing Program. She received her MA in 1990 with an emphasis in Jewish Ethics and Feminist Ethics.
Erika took a leave of absence from USC in 1991 after finishing the coursework for the doctorate (but not the degree itself) to raise a family. She worked freelance as a copy editor, was on the Beach Hillel Board of Directors, and from 1998-2000 was the Executive Director of Beach Hillel (following Executive Director Jeffrey Rips in the position). Her children, Shea and Shira (25 and 24), went to preschool at the J, and grew up active at the J and Temple Israel. “The Jewish community In Long Beach and Orange County is incredibly important to me,” says Erika. “When my kids were younger, I was very active: I taught at Temple Israel, I was in the ADL’s Steinberg Leadership Institute (now the Glass Leadership Institute), I song-led women’s Seders for the community, I gave lectures on Jewish topics for the Maimonides Society, and I was on the Women’s Division board (now Women’s Philanthropy).
“In 2000, I decided to return to USC to finish my doctorate, but HUC no longer offered a dual Ph.D. and I had to shift gears. I got my Ph.D. in 2007, specializing in Narrative Theology and Social Justice. I also received a certificate in Gender Studies. After I got my doctorate, I taught briefly at Whittier College (before the economy crashed in 2008), teaching Religion and Ethical Issues and Monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
“Because teaching positions were scarce, I worked freelance as a writer, editor, proofreader, and web editor/designer for just about anything that people needed: brochures, letters, articles, web copy, and a whole lot more. I also tutored writing. In 2010, I was hired as Public Relations Writer for The Travel Corporation and wrote articles and press releases for this international organization that owns more than 25 travel companies.
“In early 2014, I left TravCorp, and Jeffrey Rips, hired me in April 2014 to rebuild the AJCC website. Even though I was extremely familiar with the J, Jeffrey was a great help in acclimating me to all the changes that had been implemented since he came on as Executive Director. The position of Director of Marketing and Communications opened up in July 2014, and it was an incredibly natural fit. The J has everything that is important to me: good values, a sense of community and social justice, great colleagues, wonderful members… and my position gives me the flexibility to be creative and problem solve. I feel incredibly fortunate to work someplace that feels so perfect for who am and what I believe. This is definitely one of those jobs where the stars aligned—my Jewish background, my writing background, and my tech background. I can’t imagine working anywhere else!”