More than 400 Hillel professionals from all over the world celebrated their achievements while looking toward building a stronger future last week at the 2004 International Professional Staff Conference in Stamford, Conn. The four-day conference, entitled "From Strength to Strength: Writing Hillel's Next Chapter," gave professionals the opportunity to share ideas with their colleagues from across the field, enrich their skills and challenge themselves to take Hillel to the next level.
Hillel's strategic planning work session served as a centerpiece of this year's conference, as professionals gathered to assess the current status of the movement and offer suggestions to shape its direction through the next five years. The session was one of several planned throughout the next year by Hillel's Strategic Planning Committee, chaired by Board of Directors Vice Chair Julian Sandler, that will help the organization continue to create warm, vibrant communities for Jewish college students and young adults throughout the globe.
Highlights of the conference included:
• Plenary addresses by Arna Poupko Fisher, professor of Jewish studies at the University of Cincinnati; Jonathan Sarna, the chief historian to Celebrate 350, the national celebration of the 350th anniversary of American Jewish life; and Ruth Calderon, a scholar-in-residence at the UJA-Federation of New York and the founder of Alma, a liberal arts college for the study of Hebrew culture in Tel Aviv.
• An interactive workshop with Debra Fine, the author of "The Fine Art of Small Talk," that helped participants develop their conversational skills and techniques.
• The world premiere of "Cabaret at the Edge of the World: Performing in the Shadows of the Holocaust," a new initiative in which students will re-enact the cabaret culture of the 1930s and '40s in Eastern Europe on their campuses this spring as part of their Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) activities. Professionals enjoyed a spirited performance by renowned klezmer musician Hankus Netsky and students from the New England Conservatory of Music.
• A wide variety of workshops and Jewish learning sessions that covered everything from Israeli advocacy and Tzedek programming to examining women in the Talmud.
• The presentation of the 2004 Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Awards to Jennifer Chestnut, director of Hillel at Kent State University; Or Mars, executive director of North Carolina Hillel; Melina Gimal, program director at Greater Miami Hillel; Rick Lupert, assistant director of Pierce and Valley Colleges Hillel; Rabbi Joseph Menashe, director of Johns Hopkins University Hillel; Jeffrey Lazor, program director at Michigan State University Hillel; Misha Levin, director of St. Petersburg (Russia) Hillel; and Megan Nesbitt, acting director of Brown University Hillel.
• The naming of Amy Ravis, the director of Tzedek Hillel at Columbia University at Barnard College, as the first recipient of the Professional Staff Tzedek Award.
• The presentation of the 2004 Elie Wiesel Award for Jewish Arts and Culture to Tufts University Hillel and an honorable mention to Florida State University Hillel, and the 2004 William Haber Award for outstanding programming to the University of Iowa Hillel Foundation, Hillels Around Chicago: Columbia College, Ohio State University Hillel and Indiana University Hillel, with an honorable mention to Oberlin College Hillel. Pittsburgh Hillel also won the 2004 Joseph Meyerhoff Prize for Excellence in Jewish Education.
• The recognition of professionals who have served the organization for 25 years or more: Rabbi Jeffrey Summit (Tufts University Hillel) and Rabbi Joseph Topek (SUNY Stony Brook Hillel) for 25 years; Jeremy Brochin (Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania), Rabbi Saul Perlmutter (University of Massachusetts, Amherst Hillel) and Rabbi Paul Saiger (Hillels of Illinois) for 30 years; and Rabbi Joseph Polak (Boston University) for 37 years.