Hillel Argentina business student Hernan Serlik wasn’t sure what to expect of the first Hillel Latin America Student Leaders Assembly.
"At first, I didn’t know what this conference was going to be like," said Serlik. "But as soon as all the groups arrived from the other countries, with their warm smiles, that’s when I understood the idea. That’s when I knew that sharing Judaism with other students really creates a bond, and it doesn’t matter where are you from."
Serlik joined 90 of his peers from around the region this August at the inaugural Hillel Latin America Student Leaders Assembly, held in Punta del Este, Uruguay. The Assembly drew together students from seven cities in five countries for three days of learning, leadership development, and networking.
The Leaders Assembly was the brainchild of Hillel Latin America Regional Director Gabriel Trajtenberg, who wanted to provide students across the region with a chance to learn and to connect.
"The main goal of the convention was to get the student leaders to know each other, share programs and plan together," said Trajtenberg. "We wanted student leaders from every community to feel part of the broader Hillel Latin America family."
The four days were divided into two tracks: first, the reinvention and connection to Israel and second, Tzedek-based health education. The latter focused on taboo issues affecting young adult populations, such as alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and anxiety.
"We wanted to give students a safe space to talk about those issues that concern them," said Trajtenberg, "whether it’s how they relate to Israel or how to deal with a friend with alcoholism."
And the themes seemed to have struck a chord with the attending students.
"I found the sessions really interesting and useful to me as a Jew and as a young person," described Serlik. "They opened my mind."
After attending workshops with experts in the two tracks, the students broke into groups to plan programs and events for their home communities. It was in these sessions that the students began to appreciate the power of their collective experience at the Leaders Assembly.
"In my sessions, I realized how much there is left to do to address these issues, but also that it is possible to make a difference," said 20 year old medical student Nadia Toporovskaja. "If each one of us contributes to this, we can do a lot!"
For many students, the Leaders Assembly was also a time to explore their personal and communal sense of Jewish identity.
"It was great to see how much in common the communities from the different countries share," said 23 year old art student Yael Magenheim. "This conference introduced me to other people who think about the continuity of Judaism and the role of our generation."
"I built special connections to Hillel members from around the globe and without realizing it, I discovered that many young Jews feel the same way that I do," said law student Ariel Abrutin, 27. "At Hillel, there’s a place for everyone."