When Jewish prospective students and parents visit Loyola Marymount University (LMU), I am commonly asked where the Hillel building is. They are often surprised when I explain that our Hillel, the office of Jewish Student Life, is not housed in a separate building, but rather is an integral part of the university, and exists within LMU Student Affairs. When they ask how that works, I then describe how Jewish life at LMU is celebrated and observed across the campus rather than in one building, how Shabbat dinners are hosted in the same spaces as other community banquets, how our Sukkah is in the center of campus (graciously built by our Facilities Management staff), and how Chanukah candle-lightings and celebrations occur in the residence halls.
At first, it may seem that being hired by a university to celebrate Jewish life might pose a challenge. However, I have found that such an arrangement allows for an organic Jewish community, a Judaism that permeates and is permeated by the entire campus, where Jewish students can tap into all parts of their identities at all times. Moreover, Hillel and the university have shared goals: both are committed to engaging, empowering and supporting our students. By providing an opportunity for Jewish students to engage Jewishly and develop as Jewish adults, they can better reach their potential as college students.
Some of the most successful collaborations with the University have not been programmatic. Two years ago, the Director of Admissions and I brainstormed ways to engage our Jewish prospective students and decided that I should contact them. Now, I send prospective students a letter during Chanukah as they are in the midst of the application process, and upon their acceptance to LMU. Just this simple piece of outreach has had tremendous impact, allowing for students to feel more connected to the Jewish community when they arrive, and feel embraced by the LMU community from that extra communication.
Similarly, this year the director of Young Alumni Giving approached me to work together on encouraging Jewish seniors to donate to LMU after graduation. Rather than just give them a pitch, we strategized together how we could approach the subject from a Jewish perspective. What we came up with was really fun. She and I shared the space as I spoke about tzedakah and the Jewish value of philanthropic giving and she spoke about the importance of supporting LMU.
During my time as a student at a college with a beautiful Hillel building, I never imagined that Jewish life on campus could look differently. However, in my time at LMU, I have found that being under the auspices of the university allows for incredible (and unexpected) opportunities for partnership and collaboration. I am grateful for having such a supportive university, one whose mission celebrates a multiplicity of faiths on its campus.
Rabbi Ilana Schachter is the Hillel Rabbi and Coordinator for Jewish Student Life at Loyola Marymount University (LMU).