A Taste of Engagement Institute
I just returned from an incredible week at Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton Georgia for Hillel's 4th annual Engagement Institute. This year, Engagement Institute brought together the largest group in its history, over 500 new and returning Hillel professionals and directors as well as new and returning students who joined together for intensive training and an invigorating kick off for the year ahead. I spent the week as an observer, participant, and staff member, gaining a unique holistic view of all the crucial elements of the conference that took place simultaneously.
Early in the week, I had the chance to engage in Jewish learning with the group of ten senior Jewish educators. These dynamic educators have been placed on campuses around the country to help students from diverse backgrounds explore their big questions in a Jewish context. They grappled with their roles in the campus Jewish community and strategized about the language and methods that are most successful for involving students. I was overwhelmed by the passion and knowledge that each of them brought and will undoubtedly translate to their campus communities as they seek to engage students in Jewish life on their own terms.
I later joined the Campus Entrepreneur Advisors for a rainy kayaking and experiential learning excursion with Hillel President, Wayne L. Firestone. The Advisors are a group of returning interns who successfully utilized and implemented Hillel's engagement methodology to reach students on the basis of their interests, passions, and aspirations. Now privileged to take on a leadership role mentoring the next generation of interns, the Advisors were provided with practical and motivational advice as they begin another year. The Advisors are proof of and inspiration for the work we do, as they actively create and transform the Jewish future on campus.
I also was given the opportunity to participate in the Julian Sandler New Directors Institute by speaking about an executive director who inspired me. I then joined them for a hike with Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone that culminated in an informal discussion and a challenge to take a risk and jump in the waterfall!
Shabbat was my favorite time of the week. I had the privilege of leading over a hundred students and staff, all dressed in white, in joyful singing as we walked from our cabins to join the entire Engagement Institute community. I quickly became immersed in the abounding spirit that was present as groups of students and staff converged from all sides of our meeting space. We sang and danced to nigguns (wordless melodies) as we came together to celebrate. The Shabbat day was filled with relaxation, meaningful conversation, and opportunities for Jewish learning and spiritual exploration. I only wish every Shabbat could be spent in a community like that and an environment like Ramah Darom.
Finally, I had the pleasure of meeting my colleagues in the field who I'll be working with this year and who carry out the mission of this organization on campus every day. I am grateful to everyone who took the time to share their Jewish and professional journeys with me (often intertwined!) and look forward to continuing our work together this year. I also had the opportunity to experience Engagement Institute with Bea Mandel, the Chair of the Hillel Board of Directors, and had the chance to witness the commitment and passion she has for the organization. Finally, I connected more deeply with and learned from my own dedicated group of Schusterman International Center colleagues, as they taught and mentored throughout the week.
As we move into the month of Elul in the Jewish calendar, a time to rejuvenate ourselves for the year through reflection and forgiveness, I can't imagine a better way than Engagement Institute to set me off on the right foot.