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Hillel Stories

A Summer in DC with Hillel

Washington, DC | 2012

"My most rewarding learning has been achieved through the people I have met and the relationships I have created."

Five weeks down and four to go; has the time really flown by so quickly? Interning at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life in Washington, DC this summer has been an amazing, crazy, and exciting experience. I have been thrown into the wonderful world of non-profits, in our nation's capital --what more could I ask for? In the summer, Washington is overflowing with interns. This group is comprised of the smartest, brightest, and most competitive students of the next generation. Scratch that - of this generation.

Every day I hear about the accomplishments of young people around the world, and DC's summer interns are no exception. This rings true at Hillel in particular. The professional staff enjoys working directly with members of their target audience, and although I have only just completed my first year as a college student, I feel that my contributions at Hillel are truly valued, and I enjoy having the opportunity to share my input on various projects and initiatives.

When I accepted my internship at Hillel this summer, I had no idea how much learning would ensue. Now, five weeks in, I have gained so much more knowledge and perspective than I ever could have imagined. I continue to be amazed by the fact that this one Jewish organization is reaching so many of my own generation's finest and brightest. There is a whole department focused on student engagement, and being here has allowed me to work with some of the masterminds behind these amazing programs. Jennifer Zwilling, Associate Vice President of Student Engagement, and Rachel Gildiner, Associate Director of Student Engagement, are just two of the many amazing professionals shaping Jewish life on campus that I have had the opportunity to interact with daily.

On the first day, my supervisor asked each of the four undergraduate interns to list goals for the summer in order to help shape our nine-week experience around personal interests. This was difficult; I did not yet know what skills I hoped to obtain. Consequently, my first goal was simply, learn in the general sense. Thinking back to my first day, I laugh. I have learned so much since then. One example is the seminar I created that will be used as leadership training for professionals. In the process I built an entire lesson from scratch, and it is one of my proudest moments from the summer.

My most rewarding learning has been achieved through the people I have met and the relationships I have created. Among the many piles that I'll bring home with me is an entire notebook dedicated to the advice and wisdom I have gained from each coffee date I have attended with different professionals in the office. Scott Brown, Hillel's Executive Vice President, instructed me to pay attention to whom I will be working with and for whom I will be working when applying for jobs. He explained that it is not only important to think about the overall mission of the organization but also about the people with whom I interact every day - supervisors and the people around you greatly impact your day, so it is important to consider them as a factor when accepting a job. Pirkei Avot teaches, "Who is the wise person? The one who can learn from everyone" (4:1). My informational interviews have ranged from lunch with the president of Hillel, Wayne Firestone, to my everyday interactions with the interns around me, and I will finish this summer much wiser for learning from each of them.

In a little over a month I will travel home to start my sophomore year of college at the University of Texas, and I look forward to applying these lessons outside of my summer bubble. I am transformed: I fear, yet secretly hope that my friends and family will not immediately recognize me. I have gained the skills to present a lecture, think critically, network, and much more. I left Texas as an eager college freshman seeking skills to add to my tool box. I'll return as a young professional, and I can't wait to put my new learnings to good use.

Kayla Sokoloff is a rising sophomore at the University of Texas. She is currently a Conference Coordinator Intern with Hillel at the Schusterman International Center in Washington, DC.

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