Fifteen students at Berkeley Hillel were given $180 each and sent out to change the world. The students took children from a shelter to visit a museum, bought food for the homeless, supported breast cancer research, and even brought a group of local children to a store where they built their own teddy bears.
Students were deeply moved by the experience. "When I was three I wished for toys," explained Berkeley sophomore Talli Hogan, who used her $180 to raise $1200. "These kids have basic needs that aren't being met, and there are things that as a result, they didn't even know they should wish for. I wanted to give them teddy bears."
The Berkeley program is just one example of the creative approaches of six campuses that recently won international awards for innovative Hillel programs. "At a time when Hillel has earned a reputation for its pro-active, pro-Israel education on campus, Hillels are also developing innovative, engaging programming in the arts and social justice," said Hillel President and International Director Richard M. Joel.
The 2002 William Haber Award was presented to four schools whose creative programs broke new ground and found new ways to involve students. At the University of Connecticut Hillel, students united the entire community when they sponsored a campus-wide "Month of Kindness."
"With over 40 groups participating, we included many aspects of campus life," said Hillel Executive Director Debbie Rubenstein.
Hillel and other campus groups planned over 60 programs promoting kindness during the month of November, including a peace vigil, an a cappella charity concert, teacher appreciation cards, a visit to a soup kitchen, notable speakers, as well as a bone marrow drive and rock concert. The program was so successful that the university administration adopted the initiative.
Students at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Hillel raised over $5,000 for Lymphoma research when they created a program based on a TV game show.
"We saw this as an opportunity to build relationships within the campus Jewish community, while reaching out to others by involving and interacting on a personal level with the rest of the community and faculty of the university," said Jeremy Seaver, program coordinator at the University of Illinois Hillel.
In an effort to create a greater sense of community at Washington University, St. Louis Hillel developed a Community Development Fellowship Program. This program hired upperclassmen to become mentors to the first-year students. By doing so, they engaged the first-years students to be involved in the Jewish campus community by providing programming for them, and created leadership opportunities that kept upperclassmen involved in Jewish life.
"This program has successfully reached a large number of lower and upperclassmen at the university. CDFP provides for effective programming for Jewish first-year students that enables them to find their place while away from home," said Glenda Wucher, Jewish student life coordinator at St. Louis Hillel.
The 2002 Elie Wiesel Award for Jewish Arts and Culture was presented to two schools that used art to engage students. Hillel at Pierce and Valley Colleges showcased student art in an exhibit at the prestigious Finegood Art Gallery in West Hills, CA, which hosts renowned professional art shows year-round. The collection included a mix of paintings, sculptures, mixed media and photography.
"Hillel created an environment that encouraged Jewish artistic expression and promoted and strengthened the students' identity," said Nomi Gordon, Hillel director at Pierce and Valley Colleges.
The second recipient of the award was Hillel at Northwestern University, where theatre was used to bridge together several generations. In this unique program, 45 college students worked with 12-year-olds to create theatrical monologues on the experience of becoming a bar or bat mitzvah. The college students served as both mentors and collaborators to the middle-school students. After two months of rehearsal, the group converted the Hillel house into a performance space, complete with a stage, theatre lighting, decorations and backstage area.
"By the night's end it was clear to all that this project was much more than a theatrical performance: it was a chance for a community to unite in the spirit of art and education," said theatre senior Elliot Leffler, director of the B'nai Mitzvah Theatre Project.
Through these programs, Hillels built positive relationships with other groups on campus and, together, helped to improve their communities.
"I never would have thought that $180 could make such a difference in the world," said Berkeley student David Singer. "But now I see how profoundly it can touch and change lives."