This week, students from more than 25 colleges and universities around the U.S. will head to Israel on their Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel trips!
The students and staff will meet and travel with groups of Israeli soldiers (their mifgash), visit cultural sites like Yad Vashem, Mt. Herzl, and the Western Wall, and have a great time swimming in the Dead Sea, riding camels, climbing Masada and more.
Israeli soldiers greeting their Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel Trip - Bus 1063 from Indiana University Hillel!
We can’t wait to follow along as they learn about Israel and fall in love with the country and people. We’ll be sure to share their stories, photos and videos, so stay like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Have a great trip, buses 1061-1075!
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This is the eighth in a series of blog posts by Hillel professionals, sharing why they love what they do.
Pictured: University of Maryland mascot, Testudo, with the author.
After a year of intensive work at the University of Maryland Hillel, I can say that never in my life have I worked with such creative, energetic, thoughtful and inclusive coworkers as my fellow staff members at the Rosenbloom Hillel Center at the University of Maryland. Our vision - Live, Explore, Connect, Give - outlines what makes this place great.
Cogito Ergo Sum (I think, therefore I am), said Descartes. And according to my 93 year-old grandmother, Edo Ergo Sum (I eat, therefore I am). Food is an expression of love, anger, joy and sadness. Therefore, according to grandma, the details of my work are irrelevant - where do I live, with how many students I work on a daily basis, etc. Am I reaching out? Engaging? Great, as long as I do it over a piece of cake. And if I’m gaining weight - even better. So you tell me: is there’s a better place to work than RHC@UMD, which serves 3 kosher meals daily? L’chaim, Savta. (To life, Grandma.)
Not one college movie (yes, I watch them all; no one’s perfect) prepared me for the real thing - word to the wise. But seriously - it seems that a reason for such a difference between Israeli students and American students has to do with the fact that the life of the latters is college-centered. They live, work, make friends and eat all in one place. In a way, Hillel is a greenhouse, enabling students to be expressive and creative within a broad and complex Jewish spectrum. Everything is legitimate - this is the time and place to try, learn and err. I find myself enthused by our students’ creativity and energy, and am thankful for the opportunity I have to add the Israeli component to the vibrant Jewish discourse.
Get out of the comfort zone; engage, share, and inspire. I’m not talking only about daily work. I’m talking about my support group of Israel Fellows, the network which can make me laugh out loud just from one weird text message, and which reminds me every single day of why am I here.
My mom always said that I should pack light. Since she tends to be right (though I don’t tend to be wrong), I packed “light-ish” when I left Israel, and used only 7 of the 7 boxes we were given for our belongings. One of the boxes was filled with flags, maps, flyers, buttons, bookmarkers, calendars and other Israel memorabilia. To my great surprise, I found out that I don’t actually need any of these giveaways, and sometimes even a cup of coffee is needless - a spontaneous conversation or just remembering a detail someone mentioned about their family is enough to create wonders. Moreover, my personal connection with students helps me sharpen my Jewish Israeli identity, and define better the connection between Israel and the diaspora.
So, at the end of the day, I’m not sure who will benefit more: me or the students.
Yael Gertel is the Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow at the Rosenbloom Hillel Center at the University of Maryland.
Tags: (About Hillel Campus Life Higher Education Israel Education Jewish Life
Hillel sends a hearty Mazel Tov to all of the 2013 graduates. We wish you all the best, and can’t wait to hear what you’ll do next!
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Last August, I had the privilege of heading to St. Louis for Hillel Institute, the annual national leadership conference for engaged Hillel students and professionals. Those five days were enormously fulfilling, but perhaps most impactful was the program’s Shabbat: from meeting and speaking with dozens of passionate students from across the country, to learning about how spirituality can manifest itself in science-fiction writing, all within just twenty-five short hours, the experience was fundamentally transformative. It was so worthwhile, in fact, that I decided to try to port it to my own campus. A few weeks ago, I’m proud to say we achieved just that, and the event that resulted, the 2013 Northeast Shabbaton, was fantastic.
The entire process proved itself totally worth the immense effort as people began arriving on Friday afternoon. Seeing so many enthusiastic students walk through the doors of Brown RISD Hillel, seamlessly settle into our makeshift community, and engage with one another, was a fantastic start, only furthered by the incredible conversations and networking that began almost instantly. The fundamental purpose of the Shabbaton was to bring the northeast-based college-age Jewish community together, and it was very gratifying to see the event successfully working its magic.
To say the crowd was diverse would be an understatement. Over the weekend of April 5th and 6th, we hosted dozens of students from twelve schools in the northeast, not to mention the numerous Brown and RISD students who participated in the festivities as well. The experience kicked off with Shabbat services and dinner, followed by a fantastic oneg (informal Shabbat gathering). Following Saturday morning prayer services and lunch, we had the opportunity to split into different “shabboptions” to explore different facets of Judaism. The choices varied from text studies to Mapping Israel with Candy, from Jewish-themed Yoga to niggunim (Jewish vocal song). Luckily, we were privy to some fantastic weather, and later in the day many opted to spend time outside on a warm early-spring day. As we wrapped up with the third meal and Havdalah, we realized what a true community of friends we’d become and how meaningful the weekend had been.
The college-aged Jewish community is quite vast yet largely disparate, separated by campus borders even when close together. Many of us are looking for new and different means of engaging with our Judaism, and get-togethers like the Northeast Shabbaton are fantastic ways for us to meet, share ideas and stories, and connect on a larger and wider scale. I truly hope that more shabbatonim geared at our age group will start popping up; they’re largely fulfilling experiences.
There was one particular happenstance that, for me, brought the Shabbaton full-circle. First, a bit of context: on Shabbat afternoon of Hillel Institute in Saint Louis, I was sitting and eating lunch when, seemingly out of nowhere, a group began nigguning and dancing through the dining hall. I knew only one of them, a friend from Brown, and when he saw me, he grabbed the sandwich from my hand, put it down, stood me up, and brought me over to partake. It was one of the most fulfilling, spontaneous experiences I’d ever had—the utter passion that each singer/dancer exuded was contagious, so full of life and full of ruach (spirit) — and the niggun we sang will stick with me forever. As I sat down to sing on Saturday afternoon at the Northeast Shabbaton, that same friend began to sing that same niggun, and I was suddenly taken back to the fundamental inspiration for bringing everyone together: to share that oh-so-contagious and passionate ruach. In so many ways, it was pure harmony.
Ian Callender is a rising junior at Brown University majoring in Architectural Studies. He is currently Brown RISD Hillel's Intercollegiate Coordinator and works across campus borders to bring different schools' Jewish communities together with both travel-based programming and ideative collaboration.
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“Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life”—by now it kind of rolls off the tongue, like an everyday phrase. But what does “Foundation for Jewish Campus Life” really mean?
When I was looking at colleges, I remember choosing Duke precisely because I thought Jewish Life was less present on campus. With a Jewish Day School background, summer camp, and a family involved in the Boston Jewish Federation, I wanted to try being in a setting where I had to make the conscious choice to be involved in Jewish life. Being a school in the south, with a Jewish population of about 10%, I thought Duke would be a place where I could go to Hillel on the holidays and strengthen my identity on my own. However, what I found throughout my four years was a college that really valued a partnership with Jewish Life— Duke recognizes the symbiotic relationship that Hillel brings to the university. In fact, Hillel and Jewish Life are so incorporated into the university, that even when I was “on my own,” Hillel was really behind the scenes.
Freshman and sophomore year, I wouldn’t have considered myself a “Hillel student.” I joined AEPi, the Jewish fraternity, took some Jewish and Middle Eastern studies classes, and attended the occasional free Shabbat dinner, but I didn’t spend much time in the Hillel building. What I didn’t realize then, is that you don’t have to be in the Hillel building to be a “Hillel student.”
When I became an Engagement Intern, I began to understand the support that Hillel professionals provide beyond the walls of Hillel. As they helped me strengthen my Jewish identity, they gave me the tools and resources I needed to engage my friends and colleagues in my networks and help them figure out what role they want Judaism to play in their lives. I would say the capstone to my time at Duke goes back to Passover of my senior year. With the help of Duke’s Hillel, I organized and led a peer Seder for 75 of my friends. From the beginning, I worked with the Rabbi to put together the Haggadah and plan the Seder, and I was able to bring Hillel to students in a way that connected to them (not to mention 80 homemade Matzah balls!). And I am happy to say that this year, my ‘backyard Seder’ continued, even after I graduated, and grew to 95 people!!
After spending a year as the Bronfman Fellow, working in the Office of the President at Hillel’s International Headquarters in Washington, DC, I have come to understand and respect the diversity of Jewish life on our different campuses. No matter how you are involved with Hillel— as the student President or a one-time Shabbat go-er; an alternative break alumnus, or a Taglit-Birthright Israel participant; a peer engager or an asker of Big Questions— “Jewish Campus Life” is all about empowering Jewish young adults to strengthen their Jewish identity in whatever way connects with them at this point in their journey.
Jeremy Moskowitz is the 2012-2013 Bronfman Fellow, working in the Office of the President at Hillel's Schusterman International Center. He is a graduate of Duke University, class of 2012.
Tags: (About Hillel Bronfman Fellow Campus Life Higher Education International Jewish Life Student Leadership
This is the seventh in a series of blog posts by Hillel professionals, sharing why they love what they do.
Pictured (L-R): students Stephanie Levine, Rachel Rosenberg, Dani Gittleman and Mark Doebler with the author, center.
Do what you like and like what you do. It’s a simple enough idea, but how many people can actually say they make a living doing something they love? Thanks to sheer luck, I am one of those people. Over the past five years, Hillel has given me the opportunity to grow both personally and professionally and I have found continual fulfillment in the work I do. As the Director of Engagement and Campus Initiatives at the Lester and Jewell Morris Hillel Jewish Student Center at Michigan State University, I have the opportunity to make a positive impact on someone’s life every day. This proves Hillel is truly a great place to work. Whether I am meeting a first year student for lunch, sitting in on a Jews in Greek Life meeting, or helping a group of student leaders plan a week-long campus initiative, no two days are alike, and each day brings new and exciting challenges.
Unlike many of my peers who are perpetually unfulfilled in their corporate office jobs, I am consistently encouraged to think outside of the box. The encouragement and support I receive from my supervisor and colleagues is unmatched, and has no doubt contributed to my passion for the work we do at Hillel. Beyond working in a positive environment with enthusiastic people, the one thing that truly makes Hillel a great place to work is the bonds forged with students. Throughout my years at Hillel, I have had the privilege to be an active participant in many of my students’ growth and development. Fostering and developing meaningful relationships with my students isn’t just a perk—it’s an actual job requirement. In my opinion, nothing is more rewarding than knowing you’ve made a positive impact on someone’s life, even if it’s in the smallest way.
Of course not every day is perfect. There are moments of frustration and defeat; days when I am convinced I will never succeed. Luckily, those few days are quickly overshadowed by something wonderful that inevitably happens—a wildly successful program, an unexpected conversation, a great laugh with my colleagues. Working for Hillel is no cakewalk. As a programmer, I often work long hours and am constantly “on” regardless of what’s happening in my personal life. The benefits of this profession, however, greatly compensate for these small sacrifices. Each day is new and exciting, filled with opportunities to make a difference in my own campus community. The personalized support and professional development is incomparable and, most importantly, I have fun every single day.
As a young professional, I am constantly asked by friends and families what my next step is and truthfully, it’s hard for me to answer that question. I love what I do and I am fulfilled where I work, which is such a rarity. I don’t know where life will take me next, but I do know that I am perfectly happy where I am right now. So I’m going to take my own advice, and do what I like and like what I do.
Robyn Berkowitz is the Director of Engagement and Campus Initiatives at the Lester and Jewell Morris Hillel Jewish Student Center at Michigan State University. She began her Hillel work as a Program Associate in June of 2008, and was promoted to her current position in June of 2010. A proud MSU alumna, she loves hanging out with her friends and family and attending Spartan athletic events. Go Green!
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Guest blogger Emma Goldstein is a senior at Tufts University with a double major in Community Health and American Studies. She is the student president of Tufts Hillel.
As soon as I boarded the bus back to Medford with the other Tufts marathon volunteers on Monday, I started to think about Shabbat. I needed a separation from this week of my life, that seemed to be the most frightening and violating I had ever experienced.
When I woke on Friday morning to the news of a full city lockdown, and a Hollywood-style search for the alleged bombers, my first thought was about that evening. I stayed glued to Twitter and CNN all day long, hoping a resolution just might come about before the sun would set. At 2PM, I started to receive the calls and the texts and the emails: “What about Shabbat?”
Our Shabbat services and dinners at Tufts Hillel had been increasing in attendance this year, several weeks nearing 200 students at dinner. Shabbat had become ingrained in the Tufts ethos. When things were unsettling, Shabbat would happen. In the middle of a snowstorm that set back the entire northeast, we had Shabbat. After a student at our university had been critically injured, we had Shabbat. How could this night, a night where we needed Shabbat more than ever, be any different?
Throughout the day, I had been checking in with Rabbi Summit, our Executive Director, about the contingency plans for that night. Could we do services, but not serve dinner? Would the university allow us to open the building? What if the lockdown were lifted at 5:30 or 6? Together, we crafted a plan. We would arrange for services to be held in the common rooms of a dorm in the uphill and downhill regions of campus. We gathered a few service leaders and suggested to do the best they could to make the services feel welcoming and comforting without siddurim and with a potentially diverse group of students.
Just minutes before services were to begin, the Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, announced from the television screens in the common rooms that the shelter in place mandate had been lifted. We combined services and joined together in one common room. Someone turned off the television; we pulled over couches, chairs and end tables to form a circle for our minyan. At this point, there were fifty students gathered for Shabbat.
We do not normally daven (pray) together. We have a set Reform service and a set egalitarian Conservative service. On this Friday, we were all in one public place. Our service leaders began with an invitation for students to join in and help make the service feel “right” for them. As we prayed Kabbalat Shabbat, different melodies were introduced. Before Ma’ariv, one student offered a brief drash (explanation) on the week’s portion. We counted the omer and then we sang Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebeirach. We concluded with Yigdal, a part of the liturgy that often is not included in a Reform service, but that lifted the community with its quick tempo as the sun completely set.
In the Hillel context, we often discuss pluralism. Whom should we be accommodating? Who can feel comfortable where? We worry about being inclusive while honoring tradition. I have spent hours and hours talking and thinking about how, at Tufts Hillel, we can be a place where the diverse Jewish community at Tufts can live, learn, and pray together.
On Friday night, there did not need to be a discussion about ideology or how to please everyone involved. Our pluralism worked because it had to.
As we finished services, news of the capture of the second bomber began to circulate and we were able to breathe a bit more easily. This past week, there was an eerie silence in Boston; there was an eerie silence at Tufts. But just as it does each week, Shabbat came and this week, we found that we could all pray together.
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As we enter Shabbat this week, our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with Boston, and with all of our colleagues, students, families and friends there.
During this week’s Vigil for the Boston Marathon at Brown University, Brown RISD Hillel’s Rabbi Mordechai Rackover shared this poignant sentiment.
“The hardest thing about being the survivor of terror or near-misses, and I’m speaking from my own unfortunate experience, is reclaiming sound. The boom of a truck going over a speed bump is never the same again. The sound of your phone ringing. The moment when you hear the news until the moment when your phone rings and you know everyone is checked in and is safe is a really long and hard silence. Terror is thrust upon its victims, as is the ensuing horror and grieving that often brings communities together. The challenge now is to overcome that and reclaim the sense of community as based on positive choices, rather than collective endurance and mourning.”
If you’re looking for how you can help, we recommend this list from our friends at Repair the World. May the people of Boston stay strong and safe.
Tags: (Campus Life Interfaith International News
This is the sixth in a series of blog posts by Hillel professionals, sharing why they love what they do.
Josh Furman is the Director of Programs and Strategy for Hillel at the University of Washington. Each year, Josh helps the undergraduate and Jconnect Seattle programs serve 2,500 students and young adults with innovative programming and a thoughtful approach to Judaism.
A few weeks ago, I was working on a Passover experience to allow young adults to share a meal with restaurant owners while hearing their stories of immigration. This is very different from when I needed to toivel knives for a kosher turkey schechting (ritual slaughter), and even more different from when I coordinated aerial and trapeze artists for Purim.
I think this is what makes Hillel work special, and my past 6 years have been full of opportunities that have challenged me to think creatively about what Judaism can - and does - mean for the young adults and students we serve. When I first began working for Hillel at the University of Washington, I found myself in a job that allowed me to be creative, while also providing me with the autonomy, support, and resources to succeed.
There would not have been many jobs that would have given me that amount of responsibility early on, and as a supervisor, I am now tasked with creating an environment that pushes my team to take risks, ask hard questions, and to challenge each other to dream up the craziest, most out-of-the-box programs.
Hillel keeps Judaism on an exciting trajectory, and as an employee you will feel the pulse of our ever-evolving community in ways you might never have expected. We work with the Esther's of our generation, who are embracing their identities, and the Nachson's who take risks that we could have never imagined. This work helps students and young adults see the vibrancy of Judaism, and we are guides as they navigate this special time in their lives. Hillel challenges the next generation of Jews to be thoughtful, committed, progressive, and inclusive, and there are many days where I realize that because of this job, I am growing just as much as the participants we work with.
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Today, we commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. We remember the six million Jews whose lives were lost during the Holocaust. May their memories always be a blessing.
As Israel's President Shimon Peres spoke last evening at Yad Vashem, "The Jewish people are a small nation in number, but large in spirit. That spirit cannot be burned in the ovens. From the ashes of the Holocaust rose spiritual redemption and political rebirth. We rose and we built a state of our own.
...The history of the Holocaust is not just a lesson from the past, it is also a lesson for the future. That we will know how to defend ourselves against dangers and intercept them before time. That we can rely on ourselves.
That we must maintain our moral legacy, which withstood even impossible situations. That we can maintain friendship with friends, and work with them to foster a better future, for every person, for every nation, for all nations. And to guard against humanity ever losing its humanity again.
We’ll ensure that every person will have the right to be different… different and equal. We will never despair."
Visit MyJewishLearning.com to learn more about Yom HaShoah.
Tags: (Holidays International Israel Education Jewish Life
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