Vancouver Hillel: A Model of BHAG
March 27, 2007Comments (2)
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Students at Vancouver Hillel.
By Pat Johnson
If Hillels needed proof that the BHAG – the Big Hairy Audacious Goal of doubling student participation and program funding – is a realistic goal, they can look to Vancouver Hillel.
Vancouver’s Jewish community, made up of immigrants from across Canada and around the world who appreciate the temperate Pacific Coast city’s laid-back lifestyle, comprises about 40,000. But the success of Vancouver Hillel, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, belies the relatively small size of the community it serves.
In the past four years, Vancouver Hillel has opened two new Hillel Houses, increased student participation by 1,000 percent and expanded programming five-fold.
The growth has been lightning-fast and, though not without its stresses, remarkably smooth.
“It’s an old adage,” says Vancouver Hillel executive director Eyal Lichtmann. “Nothing succeeds like success. The more students we get, the more students want to come.”
Hillel opened its doors in 1947, in a decommissioned Second World War military hut abandoned by the Department of National Defence. The organization still operates out of the same old building at the University of British Columbia. But in the past two years it has opened new satellites at the other two major universities in the province. In 2005, after anti-Israel activism at Simon Fraser University reached an intolerable pitch, a community campaign raised the funds to construct that campus’s first Hillel House. In 2006, after years of hoping and planning, the first Hillel House opened at the University of Victoria, in the provincial capital.
With the excitement surrounding the growth of the organization came more students, which begat more programming, which begat more fundraising.
Last December, Ehud Barak, Israel’s 10th prime minister, traveled to Vancouver to officially launch a capital campaign to construct a new, state-of-the-campus facility, replacing the old hut at the University of British Columbia. In four months, the campaign has reached the halfway point of its $8 million capital and endowment goal.
“The students of Hillel at UBC, Simon Fraser and the University of Victoria have been among Israel’s most dependable friends in a time of need,” Barak said in launching the campaign. “Todah rabah!”
International support is welcome, Lichtmann says, but it is the local community’s response that has him walking on air.
“The support we are receiving from the community is beyond inspiring,” Lichtmann says. “Our community understands the reality, which is that a strong Hillel today means a strong Jewish community tomorrow. Hillel has been the incubator for our community’s leadership decade after decade. Donating to Hillel is not an expense. It’s an investment.”
The only Canadian Hillel with two representatives on the Hillel International Board of Governors – Isaac Thau, who is leading the capital campaign, and Mordehai Wosk, a former Hillel House director – Vancouver Hillel is blessed to have a strong team of mentors and friends, says Lichtmann.
The strength of Hillel has had a marked impact on the atmosphere on all three campuses in the province, he adds. The vociferous anti-Israel activism has been challenged at every turn, leading to the situation where Hillel – not the anti-Israel mob -- controls the agenda on campus.
Strengthened by a large contingent of Israeli foreign students, Vancouver Hillel has deep roots with the Jewish state. Over the last winter break, Vancouver Hillel put together its own “Leading Up North” mission, in which 19 students and three staff helped to rebuild a war-torn neighborhood of Kiryat Shmona.
At the same time, Vancouver Hillel students are living the Hillel motto of being distinctively Jewish and universally human. This year alone, they have raised close to $10,000 for cancer research, made thousands of sandwiches to feed the homeless and hungry in a Peanut Butter and Jam-a-thon and raised funds for Save a Child’s Heart, an Israeli agency that provides free heart surgery to Developing World children.
Through all of this change, student-led initiatives have mushroomed and leadership development sessions are building a new generation of communal leaders. And after too long without, Vancouver Hillel has now launched its first alumni association as well as a young alumni group.
“The first alumni gathering was very moving,” says Lichtmann, himself an alumnus of Vancouver Hillel. “We had past-presidents of our board from 1965 to the present. The stories were amazing. It put so much into context. In addition to everything else we are doing … We’re making sure the next generations have their own stories to tell.”
Pat Johnson is the director of development and communications for Vancouver Hillel.