I had quite a shock when I arrived my freshman year on a college campus of 1,500 students in Appleton, Wisconsin. Coming from New Jersey, I was accustomed to a large Jewish community, but our small but mighty Hillel consisted of only 10 active students. We all had different majors, were involved in different clubs, were part of different social groups, and had drastically different past Jewish experiences and knowledge of Judaism. But we all wanted to keep Judaism as an important part of their lives.
With very few resources, we struggled to find programming that went beyond a Chanukah party and lighting the Shabbat candles. As President of our Hillel, I wanted to be able to form deeper relationships and have more meaningful conversations with these people, but did not know how or where to start. I found it hard to have serious Jewish conversations because I did not want to exclude our members who had not had the same Jewish education as I had growing up.
Through Hillel International, I learned about Ask Big Questions, which aims to create social change through facilitating dialogue. The questions are relatable to everyone from every single background and interest, which made it perfect for our Hillel. It comes with a guide for facilitating conversation, which made me more confident as a leader. I knew where to begin.
The Shabbat before Thanksgiving, we lit the Shabbat candles, said the blessing for the challah and said Kiddush over grape juice, as we usually did. Then, I passed out a small sheet of paper that read “What are you thankful for?” This simple, yet big question, led to a two hour meaningful conversation. We shared personal stories, laughed, and cried. At some point in those two hours I think we all realized that even though our Hillel was very small, it meant a lot to have this group of people who truly understood one another.
Fast forward two years, and now I am working for Hillel International. When I am asked “What am I thankful for?” I have and will always answer- Hillel.