Celebrating Persian culture with Queens College Hillel.
By Mark Weintraub
With one of the largest concentrations of Persian Jewish students in the New York area, the Persian American Student Initiative (PARSI) of Queens College Hillel targets the specific needs of these students.
The PARSI program includes training for Persian Jewish students so they can assume leadership roles in their communities when they graduate. The innovative program also holds “Persian Cultural Nights” attracting hundreds of Persian young adults from Columbia University, Hofstra, Stonybrook, New York University and other New York area campuses.
On Thursday, February 8, Yassmine and Kayvan Hakim hosted a successful parlor meeting at their home raising almost $25,000 for PARSI. Gideon Aronoff, President and C.E.O. of the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS), spoke about the pivotal role Persian students can play in actively promoting the protection and integration of refugees and immigrants from Iran and around the world.
The Hakim’s tasteful Upper East Side Manhattan home was alive with stories of Queens College students of Persian descent many of whom spoke about how Hillel has impacted their lives.
Queens College student Manuel "Manny" Aghachi was introduced by Queens College Hillel Director Moshe Shur. Aghachi told an emotional story of the separation from his father, who left Iran and is still waiting in Vienna for a US visa.
"The fact that people there could relate to my family's situation, understand it and offer some hope of reuniting me with my father was really heart warming," he shared afterwards.
But most energizing was the enthusiasm in the room created by the invitees, none of whom were the parents of those students, but were bound together by their common heritage.
"It was a wonderful opportunity to meet people tonight who took an interest in us both as students and as individuals even though they had no previous connection with us," Queens College student Roya Melamed.
The true success of this evening is due, in large part, to a strategic approach to board development based on recruiting board members of Persian, Bukharian and Israeli descent reflecting Queens College’s diverse Jewish student population. They, in turn, can approach members of their community to teach how Hillel benefits the youth of their particular culture.
Queens College Hillel President and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Life board member, Sandra Cahn explains that “One of the most appealing things for me about Hillel is that if people have an idea that makes sense, you can make it happen. Here is the case of one board member, who took an idea and made it happen in a big way…engaging new people to learn the scope of what we do..most for the first time.”
“We had the rare opportunity to open up the world of Hillel to Jews who may never have experienced the magic of Hillel in their lives. It was an amazing thing to watch. It was truly a meaningful Jewish experience,” said Cahn.
Mark Weintraub is the director of New York campus development for Hillel’s Schusterman International Center.