From left, Hannah Weinerman, Benjamin Ross, Stacy Jacobson, Benjamin Halbig, and Marisa Johnson.
Attending a White House briefing. Sponsoring an all-ages happy hour at a bar. Organizing a Shabbat evening for dozens of students.
All in a summer's internship for five students who are participating in a pilot program at Hillel's Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center.
The program enables the interns to collaborate with SIC professionals to prepare Hillel's Engagement Institute and to use Hillel's relationship-based engagement methodology to reach the 6,000 Jewish interns estimated to be in Washington during the summer. It is a partnership with Washington, D.C.'s Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, AIPAC and Birthright NEXT.
"Our main task is to evaluate and create social networks for Jewish interns in D.C.," explains Stacy Jacobson, a rising senior at Northwestern from Baltimore, MD. "We are hoping to cater to niches that interns are interested in."
Tufts student Benjamin Ross, a rising junior, adds that Hillel's approach goes beyond merely counting heads at programs: "It's a no-brainer that begging students to come to events is not building community. Engagement means having meaningful conversations with students and creating relationships."
In addition to helping others, the students have participated in programs that have enriched their own Jewish journeys. They attended AIPAC's Saban Leadership Seminar and a Shabbat event at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. They are scheduled to meet with Obama Administration officials at the White House in late July.
"In my attempts to connect with other interns and create mediums in which they can have memorable Jewish experiences, I found that I had to look at my own Judaism and try to pinpoint why it appeals to me," says Hannah Weinerman, a rising junior at Cornell University. "I've had many meaningful conversations with other interns centered around Jewish topics which both opened my eyes to new ideas and required me to articulate my own beliefs and feelings."
Marisa Johnson was not involved in the Jewish community at Northwestern University until she joined the Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative. "Working at SIC this summer has allowed me to really apply my knowledge and skills from CEI, both in the office and especially outside the office when we are engaging D.C. interns," Marisa says. "It has been great to be able to apply skills like networking, planning initiatives, and relationship-based engagement to more 'real-life' situations beyond the confines of my college campus."
Marisa describes the Washington, D.C., intern scene as more "college-y" than she imagined: "Many interns are living in dorms and the city is pretty small so you run into people you know or have met almost everywhere."
Hannah learned just how small Washington, and the Jewish world, can be. At one Hillel-sponsored event she met someone who had been in her nursery school carpool when they were 3 years old.
University of Chicago student Ben Halbig considers his internship experience a success. Not only did the program enable him to reconnect with the Jewish community, it exposed him to dynamic young people who are making a difference in the nation's capital. "I met a guy at an event who worked on the president's economic stimulus package, and he was just 26 or 27!" Ben says.