As Hillel President Avraham Infeld welcomed 80 newcomers to the Hillel world at the 2005 New Professionals Institute last week, he gave them a tall order to fulfill on their campuses.
"We have a responsibility to provide the maximum number of moments of education to a growing number of Jewish students," he said.
But the new executive directors, assistant directors, rabbis, development professionals and Jewish student life coordinators in attendance were eager to take up the challenge as they prepared to serve Jewish students on campuses across North America. Coming to the three days of training at Hillel's Schusterman International Center from a wide variety of professional backgrounds, they all had one thing in common: a desire to serve the Jewish community by providing ample and attractive paths to Jewish life for students on campus.
Aaron Chusid, the new Jewish student life coordinator at St. Louis Hillel at Washington University, spent several years working in the non-profit arena for the Boy Scouts of America, but he felt it was a good time to switch gears and become more involved in the Jewish community. Familiar with Hillel from his own college experience, it was the first place he thought to look for a new opportunity, and he is looking forward to working closely with students to strengthen their leadership skills and Jewish life on campus.
"I worked with a lot of high-level volunteers when I was at the Boy Scouts, and I saw what made the difference between the successful ones and the not-so-successful ones. I want to help bridge that gap," Chusid said.
By contrast, his colleague Josie Hertz-Ackerman, who began her job as development director at St. Louis Hillel earlier this year, is a long-time Jewish communal professional. In fact, with most of her 15 years of experience at several Jewish federations, she used to allocate funds to Hillels. After a move to St. Louis she took some time off to spend with her children, but when she heard about the position open at the Hillel at her alma mater, Washington University, it was too good to pass up.
"It just seemed to click. It was my opportunity to get back into the Jewish community," Hertz-Ackerman said.
University of Illinois-Chicago Program Director Loren Wells is also familiar with his campus, having spent two years there as a Steinhardt Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow. When his fellowship was coming to end this spring, he explored new career options but found his heart was still at Hillel.
"I have a job that I love. I can't work go home at the end of the day and not say, 'I love what I did today,'" Wells said.
Veteran Hillel professionals from the field and the Schusterman International Center hope the training they provided will help all new professionals echo Wells' sentiment during their first year in their new positions. Highlights included seminars on community building and engagement; a review of Hillel's research on today's college generation, the millennials, and the future of Hillel; Jewish learning sessions; a Schusterman International Center resource fair; and workshops on topics ranging from budgeting and supervising to marketing, technology and Tzedek.
The new Hillel executive directors even got a head start on their Tzedek activities by collectively donating $180 to Weinberg Tzedek Hillel's efforts to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
"We wanted to thank the conference organizers, SIC staff and professionals from the field who went out of their way to make our start at Hillel so wonderful," said Joel Berger, the executive director at Hillel at the University of Miami.
"Going to NPI has been a revelation for me," agreed Vanderbilt University Hillel Executive Director Ari Dubin. "It really quieted a lot of the anxieties I had going into my first year. It gave me the message that I'm not alone."