By DEBBI WOLFSON
Jewish Herald Voice
Senior Jewish Educator Intern,
Sophomore, Plan II Honors and Journalism
Last August, Texas Hillel at The University of Texas at Austin welcomed Devora Brustin as its senior Jewish educator. Hillel's Schusterman International Center chose Texas Hillel as one of the first of four Hillel campuses across the country in which to institute this position. Now, the position exists at 10 Hillel campuses across the nation and aims to provide motivation for Jewish education by meeting an assortment of student-driven interests.
Brustin came to Texas Hillel with the mission of creating unique activities in an effort to engage otherwise uninvolved Jewish students. Whether it's discussing students' relationship to Jewish life on Sundays at Hamsa Yoga or connecting Jewish business students through Jewish Organization at the Business School), each initiative incorporates aspects of Judaism, allowing students to integrate their interests with their heritage.
"[An initiative] has to be something current and relevant, something that impacts people's big questions that they're asking themselves at this time in their lives," Brustin said. "For any of the initiatives, two concepts are brought together where our students are able to recognize that Judaism exists in any aspect of their lives. It's not about stopping the action for Jewish learning, it's about living an authentic Jewish life - taking our Jewish heritage and infusing it into life today."
Each initiative stems from the 12 Campus Entrepreneur Initiative interns who dedicate themselves to creating an initiative that they believe will attract Jewish students whose interests have not yet been met. It is the responsibility of these interns to observe the community, see what activities students lack, and develop a group that will fulfill the desires of those students looking to be included.
"Our focus is on individual students, meeting them where they are, and building the kinds of relationships that increase the likelihood that they will make enduring commitments to Jewish life," said Texas Hillel executive director Rabbi David Komerofsky. "We know that we are not reaching nearly as many students as we can with our usual activities, so these initiatives are invaluable in our attempt to reach every Jewish student on campus. Rather than putting something on the calendar and waiting for students to come, we let the students' interests drive what we do. We provide the content and they provide the enthusiasm and interest."
The Garden of Eatin': Texas Hillel's Community Garden Club and the Shabbat Club are two of this year's most recent initiatives in which Texas students have opted to engage. These clubs provide an opportunity for a variety of students to collaborate and connect while maintaining and building relationships relevant to their culture.
"Texas Hillel is a welcoming place, you can walk in the building and make it anything you want it to be," Danny Korin, a former CEI intern and founder of the Garden of Eatin', said. "There are endless opportunities for personal growth and different types of people. Anything you want to accomplish you can do it here."
The Garden of Eatin' prides itself for tying Jewish holidays and Judaic importance of the seasons into their Sunday meetings. Each meeting begins with a potluck lunch where the members talk about the connection to Judaism. After this discussion, they work on the actual garden, where they grow various herbs and vegetables such as brussel sprouts and even a pomegranate bush.
Similarly, the Shabbat Club has offered Jewish students an alternative way to build relationships while practicing Judaism in a less traditional and structured environment. Catie Ginsburg, the CEI intern behind the club, wanted to offer students an alternative to a large Shabbat dinner at Texas Hillel that may be intimidating for first-timers. Instead, a student in the club volunteers to host a monthly potluck dinner at their apartment for the group. Ginsburg organizes the dinner and brings the necessary elements such as wine, challah and candles to ensure that students will be able to celebrate with the essentials.
Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Herald Voice.
More about the senior Jewish educator program.
Schmoozing with Senior Jewish Educators
Senior Jewish Educators Bring Depth to Jewish Students
Hillel Names Six New Senior Jewish Educators