More than 150 people celebrated the richness of Jewish student life in South Florida and South America last week at the first Viva Hillel event in Coral Gables, Fla. Students and lay leaders from the Hillels in South Florida, Latino Jews living in South Florida, South American Jews and members of Hillel's International Board of Governors gathered for a "magical" evening at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens, where they learned more about Hillel's important work in their communities and the opportunities for partnership and growth.
"Tonight is a celebration of all that is positive, and upbeat, and joyful in Jewish life. Tonight we delight in the young, vibrant Jewish communities we are creating. Tonight we say with all of our hearts, Viva Hillel," said Hillel President Avraham Infeld.
"I think Viva Hillel positioned Hillel in the greater Miami area in an unbelievable way. It really made the case for investing in Hillel in North and South America," said Jay Rubin, the executive vice president for Hillel's international division.
The event offered guests the opportunity to enjoy glassworks artist Dale Chihuly's latest exhibit, "Chihuly at Fairchild: A Garden of Glass," and hear from a distinguished panel of speakers, including Hillel International Board of Governors Chairman Edgar M. Bronfman, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life Board Chairman Randall Kaplan, and Viva Hillel Co-Chairs Raquel Scheck, Norman Lipoff, Alex Halberstein and Eduardo Elsztain. Donna E. Shalala, the president of the University of Miami, also spoke about the important role Hillel plays on college campuses.
With the second largest Jewish community in the United States and its close proximity to South America, South Florida is the "gateway" to Jewish life in South America, according to Rubin. He was encouraged by the crowd's enthusiastic response to the program, which also included a video presentation about Hillel in South America and the presence of students from South Florida universities.
"It was a very, very powerful evening. Everyone shared in the notion that Hillel is about the present and future of the Jewish people," Rubin said.
For those not in attendance, the Viva Hillel online auction provides an opportunity to support the Hillels in South America. Supporters can bid on a variety of luxury items, such as jewelry, artwork, sports memorabilia and travel, until Dec. 22.