OC Hillel students at UC Irvine welcome week.
While Orange County (OC) Hillel has been established for decades, this past Rosh Hashana ushered in a new day brought on by an entirely new OC Hillel staff, including Executive Director Jordan Fruchtman. New program initiatives and a revitalization of Shabbat attendance are two significant developments leading to an increase in participation and presence of Hillel on the campuses it serves.
As a countywide foundation, OC Hillel supports Jewish student life for an estimated Jewish population of 3,000 at University of California-Irvine and Chapman University, as well as community colleges in the area. So far, OC Hillel has experienced unprecedented turnout at events having more than doubled the number of Jewish students involved in programs.
On Sept. 26, just days after the beginning of a new term, 150 students enjoyed the first UC Irvine Shabbat dinner, double that of last year. UCI Chancellor Michael Drake attended and spoke to students about how committed he is to making UCI a safe and welcoming place for all Jewish students.
New UCI Hillel Program Director Justin Young facilitated the evening, and has continued to bring innovative programming to the UCI campus, including events to engage a more diverse array of students.
OC Hillel students participate in capture the flag at Chapman University.
Purposeful steps are also being taken by OC Hillel to address Jewish-Muslim student relations at UCI.
The Olive Tree Initiative, a program focused on first-hand student education on both sides of the table, is one such step. This program enabled 14 Jewish, Muslim, Druze, Christian, and otherwise unaffiliated students, two faculty members from UCI including the vice chancellor, and OC Hillel Israel Fellow, Zvi Raviv, to participate in a two week trip to Israel.
These students returned to campus eager to build upon their experiences. At one evening program they shared their experiences to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 community members and UCI students. As a result, this trip and presentation made the front page of the local Orange County newspaper and marked a turning point for the UCI relationship between Jewish and Muslim students that, in the past, has been wrought with tension.
Meanwhile at Chapman University, a small private liberal arts college with an estimated Jewish population of 300-350, OC Hillel holds weekly programs and draws a minimum of 25-30 students to each experience. Thanks to a major gift obtained in Fruchtman’s first weeks on the job, OC Hillel was able to invest in a campus director at Chapman University.
Since hiring Megan Kanofsky to fill that position, Chapman Hillel has tripled its participation from the previous year, and now has a dedicated student board and diverse programming each week. Previously given only minimal attention, a renewed focus on Chapman University has shown a strong Jewish population looking for meaningful Jewish experiences during their college education.
Fruchtman has also assembled an advisory board made up of some of the most dedicated Jewish philanthropists in Orange County to enable OC Hillel to grow and expand its reach. The dynamic new program staff is working with the Jewish media to bolster OC Hillel’s image and to spread the word about upcoming Hillel programs and events.
With all these changes and a renewed interest in participation, be on the lookout for the new director, the new staff, and a new era of OC Hillel as proof of an envigorated, thriving Jewish student population grows in the community.