Students sing during Havdallah, the end of Shabbat, at Hillel's 2007 Engagement Institute.
Over 200 Hillel interns and young professionals gathered at Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia, last month for Hillel’s first Engagement Institute, a training session for Hillel’s Campus Entrepreneur interns (CEI), Jewish Campus Service Corps fellows (JCSC) and Grinspoon Israel Advocacy interns.
“The idea behind this institute was for professional and intern cohorts to train together to successfully facilitate the broadening of Hillel’s reach and double the number of Jewish students involved in meaningful Jewish experiences,” said Graham Hoffman, Hillel’s director of Innovation & Implementation and senior advisor to the president.
Eighty-five Campus Entrepreneur interns, students hired by Hillel to develop new ways to enhance Jewish life on their campuses while connecting with other uninvolved students, representing 12 campuses and the largest group at the institute, spent the week taking part in experiential learning sessions focused on successful engagement strategies and methodologies.
“I am so excited to be a part of a program that I know will go far and reach campuses across the nation and eventually the globe,” said one student.
“These students, who have had no prior significant involvement with Jewish life on campus, are the best teachers Hillel could possibly have in regard to how to reach uninvolved students on campus,” said Hoffman.
“The experience really exceeded my expectations because it was a fabulous balance of CEI-related information, Jewish information, and social time to bond with the other kids,” said another student. “I think the whole thing was really well planned and well executed.”
In past years, CEI and Grinspoon trainings have taken place in conjunction with the annual Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly. With Leaders Assembly slated to be held this winter, the traditional summer slot was left open, presenting new training opportunities for the three programs.
“It was always a challenge fitting in Grinspoon training among the important sessions of Leaders Assembly,” said Zach Gelman, former national student leadership development initiatives associate for the Israel on Campus Coalition.
The 36 Grinspoon interns, students hired by Hillel to bring high quality, meaningful, and innovative Israel programs to college campuses, in attendance were given more team time in order to develop the tools and skills needed to tackle the specific issues areas they chose when applying to the program, rather than focusing on the big picture.
“I really enjoyed the individual group sessions,” said Johns Hopkins University sophomore Ilana Ellenberg, whose focus is the Israel @ 60 initiative. “It was exciting to be with others with the same passions I have and for us to have the opportunity to bounce ideas off of one another so that we could get excited about what we will be doing on campus.”
As a returning Grinspoon intern, Michigan State senior Michael Epstein enjoyed this year’s training more than the previous year. “This year’s sessions really helped us enhance our understanding of what we are going to be doing and encouraged us to think outside the box,” he said.
Seventy-three JCSC Fellows, recent college graduates working on campuses across North America helping students connect with their Jewish identities and with the Jewish community on campus, including 21 fellows who have returned for second year as JCSC senior fellows, rounded off the engagement institute, spending the week working on relationship based engagement and purposeful programming.
“We are excited for a new cohort of fellows and look forward to seeing what their individual talents are and how they bring them to campus,” said Simon Amiel, Hillel’s director of JCSC and professional development consultant for Human Resources.
They were joined by past and present JCSC supervisors as well as Hillel’s Senior Jewish Educator Dan Smokler, who lead sessions on Jewish role modeling and Jewish conversations on campus. Smokler also lead sessions for the Campus Entrepreneurs.
“Dan Smokler single-handedly changed the way that I think about Judaism and my place in the Jewish people's history,” said one student.
“The Engagement Institute was a great experience that really makes being a part of CEI special,” said another student. “After leaving the Engagement Institute, I am really excited to get started back at school and start working.”
Additional highlights of the institute included:
- Sessions led by professionals from MySpace, Teach for America, Taglit-birthright israel, Masa, Grinspoon Foundation, and AIPAC
- Address from Hillel President Wayne Firestone
- Low ropes course team-building activities
- Casino Night and Mystery Dinner Theater
- Spirituality Workshops
- Rejuvenation Shabbat Celebration