By Andi Lipstein
At Oregon Hillel we had been looking for programming with a little more "oomph," a little more substance. We felt we needed to diversify programming to meet the needs of more Jewish students in more ways. So recently, a group of 28 Oregon Hillel students, staff and lay board members gathered at Hillel to prepare for their "spiritual check-ups," an innovative program created by Rabbi Aryeh Ben David, a faculty member at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and a consultant to Hillel's Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.
When Aryeh offered to come to Eugene, we jumped at the chance. I had worked briefly with Aryeh before and had seen firsthand the impression he could make on students. We thought Aryeh could provide a change of pace from weekly freshman dinners and other programs that had become Oregon Hillel standards.
For the program, Hillel was transformed into a warm and comfortable space—complete with oversized cushions on the floor and a fire roaring in the fireplace for the first time in many years. Aryeh leads his program with materials fashioned like a Haggadah, and as I sat down in front of the fireplace it seemed appropriate – this night was different from all other nights.
I wasn't sure how many people would join us for the program – students are so busy, and I didn't know how to best communicate the innovation and power of this workshop. Nonetheless, we worked hard to be in touch with the students who we thought would connect most with Aryeh's workshop. After strong publicity and plenty of "buzz" around the building, we were all together and ready to take a look inward. As the night unfolded, I saw people begin to relax in their posture and in their conversation. People began to open up, and conversations became more meaningful. During the program, there is a portion about "spiritual lightening bolts"—intuitive moments of clarity. People shared these moments with the group, moments they had previously shared only with a sunset, or God, or perhaps a good friend or two. Nobody rolled his or her eyes, and nobody answered his or her cell phone. Professionals, students and lay board members all talked together, and the distinctions between the groups melted away.
After a couple of hours the evening wrapped up and several student approached me, telling me how much they had enjoyed the change in pace, enjoyed meeting Aryeh and doing something different. I felt good about the evening.
The next morning, I came into work and checked my e-mail. In my inbox sat two messages from students who had attended the workshop. One wrote, "Thanks again so much for tonight. It was really good and was even a 'spiritual lightning bolt' of sorts for me. Or at least a really thorough spiritual cleaning." And from the other: "Tonight's workshop was really excellent. The atmosphere was so pleasant with the company, cushions and toasty fire. Thanks for making me feel so welcome all the time." After reading the e-mails, it was time for me to have an intuitive moment of clarity- a sort of lightening bolt- and I thought to myself, "We are doing good work here. We are doing this right."
Andi Lipstein is the program director at Oregon Hillel.