The more than 500 Hillel professionals who gathered in Stamford, Conn., last week for the 2005 Hillel International Professional Staff Conference are now back at home, but the energy and enthusiasm they generated together during the four-day conference will continue to strengthen even as they go their separate ways. With "Hillel Inspired" as the theme for this year's event, professionals from five continents rekindled their drive for excellence in all aspects of Jewish campus life and demonstrated their immense pride in working for the organization.
Co-chaired by University of Florida Hillel Executive Director Keith Dvorchik and Kent State University Hillel Executive Director Jennifer Chestnut, the conference's success can be attributed in part to the unprecedented number of field professionals involved in its planning. More than 60 directors, assistant directors, program professionals, rabbis, development specialists and administrators worked together to create workshops and recruit speakers, and those in attendance greatly appreciated their efforts.
"This is my seventh Professional Staff Conference, and it has been the best one by far," said Ed Rosenthal, the executive director of Cornell Hillel. "For the first time, it really felt like it was coming from the field instead of the top down."
The conference's innovative nature was evident throughout the event. Intensive workshops, on topics ranging from Jewish education and program evaluation to community organizing and entrepreneurship, complemented the more traditional, shorter skills sessions. In addition to text study, participants could choose from a variety of experiential Jewish learning sessions that touched on music, dance, writing and comedy. And time was set aside each today for professionals to network with others who share their job description, allowing them to exchange ideas and discuss the challenges that are specific to their specialties.
The results of Hillel's Strategic Planning Process were also an integral part of the conference, as the professionals discussed how to translate the data into new tactics and philosophies that will strengthen the entire movement. Their feedback proved to be invaluable to the eight work groups that are drafting a report for the Board of Directors.
In addition to looking toward the future, participants also celebrated their achievements during the past year. Eight professionals from the United States, Canada and Israel were named Richard M. Joel Staff Exemplars of Excellence
, and three were recognized for 25 or more years of service: UCLA Hillel Executive Director Chaim Seidler-Feller (30), University of Michigan Hillel Executive Director Michael Brooks (25) and Ithaca College Director Michael Faber (25).
Several campuses were also honored with programmatic awards. Texas Hillel won the 2005 William Haber Award for outstanding programming, with University of Florida Hillel and Loyola University Chicago Hillel also recognized with honorable mentions. The 2005 Elie Wiesel Award for Jewish Arts and Culture went to Oberlin College Hillel, with honorable mentions going to Hillel Argentina and Hillel of Greater Toronto. Berkeley Hillel received the 2005 Joseph Meyerhoff Center Award for Meaningful Jewish Experiences, and Dartmouth Hillel won the 2005 Tzedek Hillel Award for an
Outstanding Tzedek Initiative.