Students wave penants at opening plenary.
A parade of 325 pennant-waving college students marched into the opening plenary to kick off the 2007 United Jewish Communities General Assembly (UJC GA) and they never left the spotlight. Young people, and Hillel, were front and center throughout the three-day conference in Nashville. With attendance topping 3,500, the GA is the largest and most prestigious annual event on the Jewish communal calendar.
The Bush Administration chose the GA to outline its approach to upcoming Middle East talks and sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the event -- She shared the plenary stage with Hillel Tel Aviv University Executive Director Pnina Gaday.
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Zack Yost, a senior at the University of Michigan (UM), says that it was “exceptionally humbling to be in the company of people who are so accomplished and who have given so much of themselves.”
“From beginning to end, this was an exceptional GA for Hillel,” says Hillel President Wayne Firestone. “Students had the opportunity to learn from the leadership of our global community, and I hope that the leadership learned from the students as well.”
Hillel highlights included:
- 325 student participants from 84 schools, including 35 students from Yeshiva University and 25 from the University of Michigan.
- George Washington University student Sarah Chasin and Tel Aviv University Hillel Executive Director Pnina Gaday addressed the entire convention during plenary sessions
- Four Hillel professionals participated on panels discussing Taglit-Birthright Israel, global Jewish peoplehood, Israel activism and performance measurement in non-profits.
- The Victor Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders exceeded projections and tested 130 students.
- Students joined with members of the UJC Young Leadership Cabinet to do a social justice project at the Nashville Rescue Mission.
- Vanderbilt Interim Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos addressed a plenary session and praised the communal partnership that enabled Vanderbilt to create a vibrant Jewish student community on campus.
- Students met individually with hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari, following her performance at the Grand Ole Opry.
- Hillel’s presence was reported by a number of publications and media outlets.
- Vanderbilt student Aliza Berger sang Hatikvah and the Canadian national anthem.
- The UJC honored Virginia Tech Hillel for its response to the April 16 massacre on campus.
- Hillel President Wayne Firestone addressed the UJC Young Leadership Cabinet.
Sarah Chasin addresses the plenary.
Students were fully integrated into the GA program, attending workshops and plenaries on a variety of subjects. In addition, they enjoyed special supplemental orientation and reflection activities to help them get the most from the event. At the recommendation of University of Michigan Hillel Executive Director Michael Brooks, Hillel created a series of mentoring opportunities in which they met with leaders in their prospective careers. Michigan student Zach Yost, who is also the student body president, says he will return to his campus “fired up” from his one-on-one conversation with former Hillel Board Chairman Randall Kaplan, a North Carolina businessman.
Vanderbilt Hillel Executive Director Ari Dubin and his colleagues played a significant role in planning and implementing the GA program. The Hillel hosted students and other visitors for Shabbat, planned the Sunday morning social justice session, volunteered at the GA, and arranged for Interim Chancellor Zeppos to address the conference.
Zeppos described how the university worked with Hillel and the Jewish community to reverse the school’s negative image and recruit a large Jewish student population. One measure of Hillel’s success, he said, is the fact that The Ben Shulman Jewish Student Center is now the most popular dining facility on campus. The building is routinely bursting with student activities.
Northwestern University student Taube Schwartz, who is also a Campus Entrepreneur for Hillel, said the students were well-received by the adult delegates. “People are overwhelmingly interested and excited to talk to students. That’s a dialogue that needs to be cultivated...because ultimately, we are the future.”
Hillel student participation at the UJC GA was made possible by generous donations from: The Samuel Bronfman Foundation; Anita and William Heller; Susie and Michael Gelman; Irene and Eddie Kaplan; Kathy Manning and Randall Kaplan; Tobee and Leonard Kaplan; Michael and Shelly Kassen; Jody Kaufman Loewenstein; David and Inez Myers Foundation; Nina and Julian Sandler; Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation; Mara and Robert Shlacter; Beth Kaplan and Bruce Sholk; Joel Tauber; Sharon Margolin Ungerleider.