Hillel President Avraham Infeld and International Board of Governors Co-Chair Michael Steinhardt joined students, lay leaders and community members in Miami on Sunday, Dec. 5 for the grand opening and dedication of Hillel Second Generation (H2G), the first community-based Hillel in the United States.
"The entire Hillel movement is proud of this innovative program," Infeld said. "With its mix of students and exciting activities, H2G is a model that could be adopted throughout the Hillel system."
"We realized that we had 5,000 Jewish college students and young adults in the area, and most of them were not attending Hillel at the University of Miami," said Melina Gimal, H2G program director.
Greater Miami Hillel serves students throughout the Miami and North Dade County area from its facility at the University of Miami campus, but many area students attend other local colleges as commuters. Students from Florida International University, Barry University, St. Thomas University, Johnson & Wales University and Miami Dade College are served by Greater Miami Hillel but did not have spaces of their own on their small campuses.
Looking for a suitable way to serve them, Greater Miami Hillel took the lead from the new community-based Hillels in several Latin American countries in creating H2G. Greater Miami Hillel Board President Debby Koenigsberg and H2G committee co-chairs Alex Halberstein, Viviana Furth, Ana Garazi and Adriana Halac partnered with students, professionals and community members this spring to evaluate the needs of the local students and to raise $47,000 to renovate a former chiropractor's office into a welcoming, off-campus center.
Under the direction of Gimal, a native of Argentina who previously helped to develop Hillels in Latin America as the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Fellow at Hillel's Schusterman International Center for two years, H2G opened in September as a space for Jewish students and young adults to relax, study, eat and celebrate their traditions. The building contains a caf, living lounge, computer lab with a wireless Internet network, study/meeting rooms and a backyard. Five communities plan programs focusing on career development, Jewish learning, social responsibility/tzedakah, social/cultural activities and Israel advocacy.
"Students pick and choose what they want – they have really taken ownership of the facility," said Linda Skolnik, the executive director of Greater Miami Hillel. "What's gratifying is that the students appreciate what we've done and know that we really listen to them."
Gimal, who first began working with Greater Miami Hillel in the fall of 2003, hopes to build on the successful outreach and programming she developed last year to engage the "melting pot" of area students and young adults, many of whom have roots in Latin America, Israel and Europe.
At the dedication, Miami-area students and young adults proudly hosted an open house for the community, led tours of the building and presented a video about H2G's first few months of operation. Student leaders Oren Arazi and Ailleen Averbach talked about their involvement with Hillel, and Infeld gave the keynote address. After the dedication, guests celebrated the mezuzah hanging and enjoyed music and hors d'oeuvres.
"It's very nice to see people from different communities coming together to learn more about their heritage," Gimal said.