This is the fifth in a series of blog posts by Hillel professionals, sharing why they love what they do.
By the time this is read, I will have just turned 30. By all accounts of my students, that makes me old. In fact, I was even recently told by a student not more than 5 years my junior, that I “look youthful for my age.” Some may take offense or be rattled by such things. Here, however, I will embrace the opportunity to act on my new station in life and seize the moment to let my inner alter kocker emerge. Kids these days with their smart phones, Facebooks, Instagrams, and all those other technological distractions, have lost the ability to communicate in person. In some cases, they don’t even know how to properly communicate in an e-mail. As disturbing as this may seem, in the strangest ways it reminds me why what I do as a Hillel professional is so important.
My business cards tell me that I am the Director of Jewish Student Life at the Hillel at Kent State. Before that, I was a Program Director. But when asked what I do? … It used to be a challenge for me to explain. However, after 6 years as a Hillel professional I have finally discovered what it is. I am a professional conversationalist. I have begun mastering the skill, yes skill, of having a conversation. That is the secret behind any engagement model. From conversations you make connections, you become the connector, the networker, the micro-community organizer. I believe that this is the greatest professional development skill we can pass along to our students. Conversations are the foundations of any interaction, any job interview, first date, business proposal, product pitch etc. Through teaching our students that this sometimes ominous and nebulous term of “engagement” really is simply starting and having a conversation; stepping out of their comfort zones, being interested, not interesting, listening instead of just hearing, we are showing them the way to be successful post-graduation.
As a self-proclaimed AK, I tend to be a bit cynical. I believe that the internet, while not going anywhere in the foreseeable future, is not indefinite. It is still a thing created by humans that can go just as fast as it came. And just as important as it is for us to understand how our students are utilizing technology and keep up with the latest trends, it should be even more germane to learn how to personally interact with them. While technology can definitely help us make our lives easier, we must not let it be our crutch, and we must model this behavior for our students.
Ricky Marcus has been Director of Jewish Student Life at Hillel at Kent State for the past 3 years. Before that he enjoyed 4 years as program director at the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, and looks forward to continuing to build Jewish life in Northeast Ohio.