Two Hillels, on two different continents and with two types of students but yet with a lot in common, were united on a recent videoconference between Hillel of Silicon Valley in California and the Ellin Mitchell Hillel Program at Tel Aviv University. The 10-hour time difference didn't matter when the willingness to share a beautiful moment and fruitful discussion is stronger.
Back in December, at Hillel's Professional Staff Conference in Connecticut, the idea of having videoconferences between the two Hillels was born.Both executive directors thought that it would be great to have their students meet and discuss movies.The assumption was that through the mifgash (encounter), student on both ends of the world will be able to explore their personal Jewish identity by meeting peers from a similar but different culture. The idea was well-received in both Hillels by the students and the rest of the staff.
After securing technical support and financial resources from the Office of Public Affairs of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, the program was on. Both Hillels agreed on two movies, one American and one Israeli, to discuss one in each of two videoconferences.
The day arrived, though it was evening in Tel Aviv and morning in sunny California. Students met in cyberspace after each viewed the movie, "Garden State." The videoconference was an hour long. Of course, everyone discussed the movie – for about 15 minutes. The rest of time, they talked about daily life, student life, college life in each country, interacting with Arab students here and there – just like any discussion that goes on when Jewish college students from different campuses meet.
The conference ended with, "Next time it will be night for us but really early for you guys…." "We will be there for sure…" answered an Israeli student.
The next videoconference took place on Yom Ha'Shoah, with students from both Hillels viewing the Israeli movie "Campfire." But whatever the movie, the individual stories and interesting questions are always the main character of the discussion.