Hillel's Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly was a "liberating" experience for Mette Bentow, the youth coordinator for the Jewish community in Copenhagen, Denmark. Bentow and her delegation of two students - the first Scandinavian group to participate in the conference - joined more than 300 students from around the world at the five-day event in Honesdale, PA.
And what was liberating about the Schusterman conference?
Bentow explained that Hillel empowers Jews of all backgrounds, from Orthodox to unaffiliated, to explore and celebrate their Jewishness. In Denmark, she said, the intermarriage rate is as high as 80 percent and students of limited Jewish background often feel uncomfortable participating in Jewish activities. For this reason and more, Bentow urged the organization to help set up a Hillel in Copenhagen to serve the city's 500 Jewish young people between the ages of 18 and 30.
The Schusterman conference brought together Jewish student leaders from around the world for a varied program that included arts and culture, leadership training, text study, Israel education and advocacy training. Jewish students from around the world joined together to learn about their "Global Jewish Story."
Among the highlights of the conference:
- Keynote addresses from: human-rights scholar and author Thane Rosenbaum; Jerusalem Post Editor in Chief Bret Stephens; author Roya Hakakian; U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Committee on Conscience Staff Director Jerry Fowler; Democratic National Committee Vice Chairperson Susan Turnbull; UJC Vice President Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman; and Rabbi Danny Landes, director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
- An arts and culture evening around the theme of the Golem featuring a book reading, a theatrical workshop, the creation of a graphic novel and the filming of a video.
- The Renaissance Institute, a special three-day seminar that enables Hillel lay leaders to interact with students and grapple with the issues now confronting young people on campuses around the world. This year, the Renaissance Institute was joined by members of the Renaissance and Renewal Pillar of the United Jewish Communities.
- The participation of students from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, Uruguay, in addition to Canada and the United States.
- The presentation of the 2004 Philip and Susan Rudd Cohen Student Exemplar of Excellence Award to Corey Helfand, St. Louis Hillel at Washington University; Shani Karni, Hillel at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Fabio Messer, Hillel Rio de Janeiro; Biana Shilshtut, North Dakota State University Hillel; Zehava Vitberg, University of Delaware Hillel Foundation; Andrew Woods, Hillel at the College of Charleston.
- Israel education was the core of training for Hillel's 20 new Israel Fellows, Israelis who work with Hillel on North American campuses for one year; and for Hillel's 30 new Grinspoon Interns, students who create innovative Israel programs on their campuses.