“Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life”—by now it kind of rolls off the tongue, like an everyday phrase. But what does “Foundation for Jewish Campus Life” really mean?
When I was looking at colleges, I remember choosing Duke precisely because I thought Jewish Life was less present on campus. With a Jewish Day School background, summer camp, and a family involved in the Boston Jewish Federation, I wanted to try being in a setting where I had to make the conscious choice to be involved in Jewish life. Being a school in the south, with a Jewish population of about 10%, I thought Duke would be a place where I could go to Hillel on the holidays and strengthen my identity on my own. However, what I found throughout my four years was a college that really valued a partnership with Jewish Life— Duke recognizes the symbiotic relationship that Hillel brings to the university. In fact, Hillel and Jewish Life are so incorporated into the university, that even when I was “on my own,” Hillel was really behind the scenes.
Freshman and sophomore year, I wouldn’t have considered myself a “Hillel student.” I joined AEPi, the Jewish fraternity, took some Jewish and Middle Eastern studies classes, and attended the occasional free Shabbat dinner, but I didn’t spend much time in the Hillel building. What I didn’t realize then, is that you don’t have to be in the Hillel building to be a “Hillel student.”
When I became an Engagement Intern, I began to understand the support that Hillel professionals provide beyond the walls of Hillel. As they helped me strengthen my Jewish identity, they gave me the tools and resources I needed to engage my friends and colleagues in my networks and help them figure out what role they want Judaism to play in their lives. I would say the capstone to my time at Duke goes back to Passover of my senior year. With the help of Duke’s Hillel, I organized and led a peer Seder for 75 of my friends. From the beginning, I worked with the Rabbi to put together the Haggadah and plan the Seder, and I was able to bring Hillel to students in a way that connected to them (not to mention 80 homemade Matzah balls!). And I am happy to say that this year, my ‘backyard Seder’ continued, even after I graduated, and grew to 95 people!!
After spending a year as the Bronfman Fellow, working in the Office of the President at Hillel’s International Headquarters in Washington, DC, I have come to understand and respect the diversity of Jewish life on our different campuses. No matter how you are involved with Hillel— as the student President or a one-time Shabbat go-er; an alternative break alumnus, or a Taglit-Birthright Israel participant; a peer engager or an asker of Big Questions— “Jewish Campus Life” is all about empowering Jewish young adults to strengthen their Jewish identity in whatever way connects with them at this point in their journey.
Jeremy Moskowitz is the 2012-2013 Bronfman Fellow, working in the Office of the President at Hillel's Schusterman International Center. He is a graduate of Duke University, class of 2012.