Eight student activists at Hillels in the United States, Russia and Israel received the Philip H. and Susan Rudd Cohen Student Exemplar of Excellence award last week at the 2005 Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly. These stand-out student leaders were recognized for not only their outstanding commitment to Jewish life on their campuses, but for their contributions to their greater communities as well.
"The tireless devotion and transforming accomplishments of these eight students are inspirational to everyone in the Hillel community – students, professionals and lay leaders alike," Hillel President Avraham Infeld said. "Hillel is fortunate to have them advocating for Jewish life on campus, and the entire Jewish world is fortunate to have them as future global leaders in Jewish life."
The eight recipients are:
Shai Berdugo, Northeastern Illinois University
According to the Hillel professional who nominated him, Berdugo has "ruined all stereotypes of a small, state commuter school with an identifiable Jewish population of fewer than 100 students." Without the phrase "I can't" in his vocabulary, he is constantly discovering new opportunities for Jewish students on his campus. Berdugo's leadership on a joint campaign between the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and Hillels Around Chicago: Multi-Campus Center helped students and community leaders forge strong relationships and pursue tzedek (social justice) in the Chicago area. He also traveled to Kiev, Ukraine this spring on a student mission to bring Purim traditions and tzedek to a community with little Jewish experience and limited resources.
Rebecca Cyr, University of New Hampshire
As Hillel chair during the 2004-05 academic year, Cyr worked closely with the university, local synagogues and Jewish federations and the Hillel Council of New England to increase Hillel's visibility on the UNH campus and in the community. Her effective and committed leadership led to a 50 percent increase in attendance at Hillel events, and UNH Hillel received the Student Leadership Office Phoenix Award for most improved student organization. Cyr also headed the university's College Democrats chapter and was involved with UNH voter registration campaigns and the UNH for John Kerry group prior to last year's presidential election.
Andy Green, University of California, Los Angeles
Since his parents met at Hillel at UCLA, Green was destined to become a Hillel student leader. As president of both the UCLA Jewish Student Union and UCLA Hillel, he has advocated for a welcoming, pluralistic environment for Jewish students on campus, uniting students of all backgrounds while recognizing the distinct interests of each group. During his term as Shabbat chair, Green built an incredibly successful program that attracted more than 100 students each week and included special appearances by UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and actress Camryn Manheim. He also serves as one of four undergraduate representatives to the Associated Students of UCLA Board of Directors and has encouraged more Jewish students to become student government leaders.
Emily Haimowitz, University of Pittsburgh
Recognized by her nominating Hillel professional for her "cooperative spirit, compassion of the well-being of all and flexible and humble leadership style," Haimowitz has made a difference since arriving at Pittsburgh two years ago. As a freshman, she immediately took the initiative to spearhead the social-action committee at Hillel, which quickly became one of its strongest student groups. Haimowitz spent the summer at Hillel's Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center in Washington, D.C., as the Schusterman Leaders Assembly intern, and the conference's success is a testament to her enthusiasm and spirit.
Ilya Hinsky, Moscow State Industrial University
In a community where many students are uncomfortable with Judaism and Jewish peoplehood, Hinsky has engaged many new students through seminars and celebrations of Jewish life. Planning a course on self-defense at Moscow Hillel last spring led to his appointment as program coordinator. Hinsky's enthusiasm, creativity, communication and leadership skills and a deep knowledge of Jewish history and traditions have made him an excellent Jewish leader.
Tafat Malka, Tel Aviv University
Malka's positive attitude and infectious smile have inspired many students on her commuter campus, where many have negative stereotypes about Judaism and are often turned off by Jewish programming. With a keen understanding of her classmates and excellent listening skills, she challenges students to own their Judaism and connect to the community through their Jewish stories. Malka's leadership in Piyyut, a weekly singing workshop, has helped the group increase tremendously, and the newly engaged students have gone to expand their participation in Hillel programs.
Noa Michaeli, University of South Florida
Michaeli changed the face of leadership at her university's Hillel the moment she first walked in the door. As Hillel student president and a member of the board of directors, she has lobbied for the needs of Jewish students at USF while, at the same time, giving other students opportunities to work with her on programs to build their own leadership skills. Michaeli was selected by the university president to serve as an ambassador for USF, bridging the gap between students, faculty and alumni, and she also completed internships in the offices of a local congressman and the state attorney general.
David Steinberg, University of Illinois at Chicago
By demonstrating to his fellow students that anything is possible if one puts the time and effort behind it, Steinberg has become a strong, motivational leader in the small Jewish community at UIC. Hillel's weekly barbecues, which he initiated during his freshman year, continue to be one of its most popular programs, and his organization of fundraising events and the Hillel phone-a-thon have inspired students to strive for greatness. One of a handful of Hillel student presidents selected to represent American Jewish students at last year's World Union of Jewish Students Congress, Steinberg is facilitating the growth of the new American Union of Jewish Students. He also serves as an officer in the UIC student government, and the relationships he has established through that position have benefited his Hillel as well.