This story originally appeared on the Rutgers Hillel blog.
The Peer Network Engagement Internship is designed to dramatically enhance Jewish life on campus by building relationships between student peers. Rutgers Hillel guides its Peer Network Engagement Interns as they strengthen their Jewish communities and teaches them critical leadership skills.
As we wait to board the plane from St. Louis, Missouri where we have spent the last 5 days at the Hillel International Engagement Institute, I can’t help but swell with gratitude for this opportunity. I have experienced an extraordinary amount over these past five days, from learning new engagement techniques to connecting with unbelievable individuals and their personal journeys.
Throughout this conference, we discussed that we, the Peer Network Engagement Interns, were given a special opportunity. We were selected for our positions, but now we had a decision to make. We could either put in the time and effort to help cultivate a vibrant, strong, Jewish community on our campuses or we could be lazy and blow the potential to create a difference in our peers’ lives. We were instructed that the best way we would achieve success as engagement interns was to go beyond, work harder, delve deeper and try new ways of engagement.
Along the same lines, throughout our time at Washington University, we were told to take chances and try different opportunities we would not have regularly participated in. We were told to break out of our comfort zone. One of these instances began with a room full of students from college campuses around the country. We were instructed to pair up with another student whom we had never interacted with and carry out a 30 minute conversation. Originally, when our leader told us we had to talk for 30 minutes the entire room panicked - 30 minutes with someone I have never met? What will I say to them?! However, when we returned to discuss the exercise we all agreed that 30 minutes to discuss 20 years of life was far too little. We realized how easy and amazing it is to connect to one another.
Another experience I cherish is connecting with the six other interns from Rutgers. On Thursday evening, we changed paces from continuous workshops to meet with our peers from our college for an activity called "Boundary Breaking." Our facilitator and Rutgers Hillel staff member, Greg Yellin, asked us questions, ranging from what our favorite movies were to what the scariest moment of our lives were. Each one of us opened up and answered the questions. I loved the raw emotion, honesty and love that filled the room as we opened up to one another.
I really enjoyed my time at Wash U and the new connections I have made, knowledge I have gained and stories I had the opportunity to hear from students all over the country. I cannot wait to bring all that I have gained back to Rutgers University!
One final thought, as Leo Rosten said, "Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood." - Try something new this week and talk to someone you may not have, learn their story, their struggle, connect beyond the surface and feel a piece of what it felt like to be at the conference this week.
Liz Binstein is a sophomore at Rutgers University, and a Peer Network Engagement Intern through Hillel.