Speaking at the Hillel-sponsored Summit on the University and the Jewish Community are San Francisco State University President Robert Corrigan, Presidents Conference Executive Director Malcolm Hoenlein and Hillel President-Elect Wayne Firestone.
Featuring the leading figures in the academic and Jewish communal worlds, Hillel's inaugural Summit on the University and the Jewish Community, entitled "Inspiring Values, Creating Leaders," exceeded the expectations of many who attended the unprecedented event earlier this week at Washington, D.C.'s Omni Shoreham Hotel. Participants appreciated the opportunity to address the key issues facing Hillel professionals, faculty members, university administrators and the Jewish community today as they aim to meet the unique needs of this "Millennial" generation of college students.
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The Summit also marked the debut of Hillel's new Strategic Plan, the culmination of a two-year planning process that will help guide the organization's focus as it works toward a lofty new goal: to double the number of Jewish college students who are involved in Jewish life on campus during the next five years.
With an eye on one of Hillel's new key values -- helping students find the balance in being distinctively Jewish and universally Jewish -- more than 600 participants explored new ways to work together strengthen Jewish campus life, build strategic relationships among their communities and create meaningful leadership opportunities for young adults. In sessions with names like "Communicating with Today's Students," "The Role of Jewish Faculty" and "Sustaining Jewish Philanthropic Investment in Higher Education," attendees took a hard look at the ways in which they currently serve Jewish students and how new programs and partnerships could make a greater impact on the most diverse, technologically savvy and globally aware generation of students that has ever entered North American universities.
"There hasn't been a session I've wanted to skip. It's been so meaty," said Stephanie Perler Garst, the Hillel advisor at Roanoke College who also works as the school's director of community programs and special events. "It's allowed me to fulfill both sides of my responsibilities at my campus."
"This has been a really eye-opening experience for me. Hillel is modeling for us on a national level what we should be doing on the campus level -- creating strong relationships between Hillel and campus professionals," said Rabbi David Levy, the advisor to Hamilton College Hillel.
A highlight for many participants was hearing from a wide range of distinguished speakers, including two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Tom Friedman; Hebrew Union College Professor Steven M. Cohen; San Francisco State University President Robert Corrigan; Tulane University President Scott Cowen; Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz; Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia; Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Hillel President Avraham Infeld; Yeshiva University President Richard M. Joel; Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt; American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger; Williams College President Morton Owen Schapiro; Stony Brook University President Shirley Strum Kenny; George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg; Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic; and University of Texas System Chancellor Mark Yudof.
"We got to hear something you don't hear every day -- college presidents, emphasis on the plural. It was interesting to hear how they perceive issues of concern to the Jewish community," said Steve Jacobs, a professor of Judaic studies at the University of Alabama.
Though serious discussions dominated the daytime programming, Summit participants also took some time for a fun "visit" to campus during an evening at Hillel's mock campus quad on the grounds of the Omni Shoreham. The dinner on the quad not only allowed them to show off their school spirit, but it also gave them the opportunity to learn more about the innovative programming that campus Hillels have recently developed to successfully engage more students and community members in Jewish campus life.
Attendees came away from the Summit, which was co-chaired by Hillel Board of Directors members Sandy Cahn and Michele Rosen and Williams College President Morton Owen Schapiro, excited about the work ahead of them and impressed with Hillel's leadership in bringing together all those who are invested in today's Jewish students.
"Hillel understands more [than many] the community they're not reaching," said Bonnie Cousens, the executive director of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. "I've had several helpful conversations and excellent discussions. I'd absolutely come again."
Read more coverage of Summit 2006:
Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)
Inside Higher Ed
Washington Jewish Week/JTA
New York Jewish Week