Hillel helps students overcome a sense of estrangement from their communities, regardless of where they live, according to young people from the former Soviet Union, South America, the United States and Israel. Appearing on a panel called "United Not Uniform," the students helped fellow participants at the Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly understand the challenges of growing up in Argentina, Ukraine, Russia and Israel.
Like many students in the United States, Sasha Olinykova, a student leader at Kiev Hillel, is dedicated to tzedek, serving the growing community of Jewish citizens, in particular. But while many American Jewish communities have put together a network of social-service institutions over decades, the Jewish community in Kiev is still rebuilding after 70 years of communist rule.
"Jewish life is very, very young, and at the same time, it is very, very ancient," she said. "We need guidance and help from people abroad."
By contrast, Moscow State Industrial University student Ilya Hinsky finds that "it is very profitable to be a Jew in Russia," in terms of services offered, since many communities receive significant financial support from Americans. And though anti-Semitism still causes hardships for Russian Jews, it also brought them together as a community.
"Anti-Semitism makes Jews feel like others. It's a great uniter. That sounds awful, but it's fact," he said.
Across the world in Argentina, the home of Evelyn Goldfinger, economic troubles have affected the Jewish community more than anti-Semitism.
"There are 3 million people in Buenos Aires. If they were all anti-Semitic, we wouldn't be there," she said.
Anti-Semitism is not a problem for Israeli Bat-El Mashasha, a student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. But as an immigrant from Ethiopia, she is troubled by the difficulties many other Ethiopian-Israelis have experienced in adjusting to life in Israel.
"This is a crisis. When Jews don't feel comfortable here in Israel, where else can they feel comfortable?" she said.
Despite the differences in their communities, however, the students felt a strong bond among themselves and world Jewry in general.
"First, we have Hillel that unites students all over the world," Olinykova said. "We have the same songs, prayers and Shabbat. The spirits and purposes of life are the same. Jews are not indifferent to what's going on around them."
"With Jews, you just feel home," Goldfinger said. "There is just so much history, values and context."