Hillel President Wayne Firestone speaks with a student at the 2006 Charles Schusterman Leaders Assembly.
Participating in the Renaissance Institute of the Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly reminded me why I am so excited to now take the helm of Hillel.
Not only does Hillel have some of the most passionate, devoted and wise volunteer leaders in the Jewish world, our student activists are embracing a new role as innovators and leaders of creative initiatives that can benefit the campus and community alike. Let me explain.
The Renaissance Institute enabled adult supporters of Hillel to spend two and a half days at our Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly, our annual student leadership conference. The Renaissance Institute participants joined young people in student-oriented workshop sessions and plenaries, and engaged in discussions specifically geared to adult interests.
This year, the Schusterman conference brought together two distinctly different groups of students: those who are current Hillel leaders and those who have little to do with Hillel.
Our objective was to support the young people who have been our historical mainstays while advancing our strategic planning goal of doubling the number of students involved in Jewish life and including Jewish students we have never seen before.
Through experiential learning we taught the young people how to create welcoming environments on their campuses and how to reach way outside their Jewish comfort zones. Young people with strong Jewish backgrounds were encouraged to experience different approaches to Jewishness. Those with limited backgrounds were introduced to the range of Jewish experiences.
The two tracks were uneasy with one another at first. Those with little Jewish background simply did not know traditional Jewish melodies, for example. To accommodate both groups we organized a unique program called “Shabbat Tourist.”
On Shabbat morning, a wide range of Shabbat celebrations were held, everything from meditation, to a Carlebach celebration, to an Orthodox service. A group of Shabbat Tourists were led from one Shabbat experience to another by experienced field professionals like Adam Simon and Esther Abramowitz where they were welcomed warmly. By the end of the day, the young people began to understand one another and to see their Jewish identity through new eyes. The two tracks could come together as one.
This is the model we hope the young people will re-create on their campuses: diverse, inclusive Jewish communities.
I am so proud of the professional staff who created this unprecedented conference, of the lay leaders who traveled two hours north of Atlanta to participate, and of the young people who took time from their school year to join us.
This event was not the beginning of a journey but a milestone on a road paved by many great Hillel leaders.
As the new president of Hillel I am indebted to my mentor and friend Avraham Infeld, to the leadership of our International Board of Governors - Edgar M. Bronfman, Lynn Schusterman and Michael Steinhardt – and to that of our Board of Directors, particularly Julian Sandler, Randall Kaplan and Neil Moss. I continue to draw inspiration from the work, advice and enduring love of former Hillel President Richard M. Joel.
Reflecting on our past and on our future, I am proud -- and humbled -- to lead Hillel’s effort to deliver the Jewish future.
Wayne L. Firestone
A biography of Wayne L. Firestone is available.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency
An Alabama Jewish Federation Executive
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