This farewell address by outgoing Hillel at UCLA Student Board President Natalie Charney was originally featured on the UCLA Hillel website.
I first entered the Hillel at UCLA building to attend a Bruins for Israel general meeting. I walked in alone, a little nervous, and unsure of how I could contribute to the conversation. Four years later, I made my final exit, leaving the building with lifelong Jewish friends I had met through my Hillel involvement. I also left with a wealth of knowledge and wisdom which I gained from a caring, supportive staff. These committed professionals helped me develop confidence in my leadership skills and taught me how to contribute to Jewish and Israel-related conversations. Most importantly, I left with an empowered perspective that will always allow me to think critically about important issues through a Jewish lens.
Hillel at UCLA is an organization that celebrates and capitalizes upon how each Jewish student understands his or her Judaism as an individual. Micro-communities and intimate learning opportunities play an integral part in ensuring this personal connection. This year, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing and understanding how other Jewish students shaped their own Jewishly-bent mind and souls in a diversity of programming and learning successes. The year kicked off by welcoming the largest freshmen class we’ve seen -- students excited about Shabbat programming, Israel, exploring their Jewish identity, becoming part of leadership in Persian Community at Hillel, and even a determined first year who took the initiative to restart and re-vamp the Challah for Hunger micro-community. I am honored to have met such budding, strong leaders who are eager to take the helm in leading the Jewish Bruin community in the coming years.
In additional to the individual, Hillel at UCLA prides itself on community, specifically community as created by the intimate Shabbat experience every week. This Shabbat experience began at the first Shabbat of the year as we welcomed our large freshmen class. One highlight was the Rivalry Shabbat where we invited our Trojan friends into our home for a Shabbat with over two-hundred and fifty students in attendance. Another Shabbat highlight occurred when we were able to share love and respect with Holocaust survivors at the co-hosted Bearing Witness and Bruins for Israel joint Shabbat. On Friday evenings, Jewish students take a deep breath, trek over to Hillel at UCLA, sing the Bruin-version of Shalom Aleichem, and rejuvenate through love and appreciation of Jewish community. The monumental year ended at “L’Chaim to Chaim Shabbat” where students and community members enjoyed a classic UCLA Hillel Shabbat, celebrating Rabbi Chaim’s forty-year contribution to this organization. While Chaim and two incredibly dedicated staff-members, Naomi Karp and Yair Vardi, also “graduate” with me after this school year, I am confident in our remaining students’ ability to lead and take Hillel at UCLA to innovative, exciting heights.
Thank you for helping to positively shape my experience as a Jewish Bruin and solidify my lifelong commitment to ensuring Jewish continuity and community.
Natalie Charney graduated from UCLA this past June. While at UCLA, she served as the Student Board President of UCLA Hillel. In the upcoming year, she will serve as a Teach for America corps member in New York City.