As Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life moves farther along in implementing its five-year Strategic Plan, introduced in 2006, the world's largest Jewish campus organization has envisioned an exciting new direction for its Small and Mighty campuses. Now in the beginning stages, this new vision will shift the organization's focus as it relates to campuses with small Jewish populations.
"There is tremendous potential to develop the Jewish student populations on these campuses by applying a more strategic and focused effort," explains Deb Geiger, assistant director of the Soref Initiative for Emerging Campuses. "We want to ensure that despite the small population, Jewish students feel engaged in Jewish life and have access to the same opportunities, like Taglit-Birthright Israel, as do campuses with large Jewish student populations."
There are currently 190 North American campuses affiliated with the Small and Mighty initiative, also called the Soref Initiative for the Soref Foundation which helps fund the program. Spread out among these nearly 200 campuses are an estimated 30,000 Jewish students (fewer than 800 on each campus), some with just a single Hillel staff member and others without any staff at all. The Soref Initiative has created two strategies to meet the breadth of needs of campuses with small Jewish populations.
The first strategy is to create a pilot initiative cohort which will include Colgate University in New York, Franklin and Marshall College and Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Middlebury College in Vermont, Williams College in Massachusetts and Washington and Lee University in Virginia. These campuses were selected based on their having a paid university professional dedicated to Jewish life on campus; high alumni involvement; open relationship with Hillel; and high ranking in U.S. News & World Report. Developing this model over time, the Soref Initiative will work closely with a total of 15-20 schools by 2010.
Franklin and Marshall students eating in sukkah.
"Our goal is to enhance the Jewish campus experience for those students on small campuses," says Geiger. "We want to grow student engagement by thirty-percent and double the number of Jewish students participating in immersion experiences such as Alternative Break and Taglit-Birthright Israel."
Franklin and Marshall College will host a training seminar in October for professionals from each of the eight participating cohort campuses. There, they will be familiarized with Hillel's overall mission, engagement methodology and follow-through techniques.
To strengthen Hillel’s ability to work with the other Soref schools, Hillel will increase access to self-directed resources on smallandmighty.org and meaningful Jewish experience opportunities such as Taglit-Birthright Israel, alternative breaks and innovative Jewish events.
"As we learn from our focused work with the initial cohort," says Geiger. "We will continue to implement a strategic methodology to our work and share best practices with all Soref campuses.”