Hillel welcomes students of all backgrounds and fosters an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. As the largest Jewish student organization in the world, Hillel builds connections with emerging adults and inspires them to direct their own Jewish journey.
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In the early 1990s, as the Iron Curtain fell in Europe, Hebrew University of Jerusalem Hillel Director Yossie Goldman noticed something of a trend—Russian Jews were arriving at the university and joining Hillel in droves. Through conversations with these Russian students, Goldman realized that there were more than 1.5 million Jews who remained in Russia, and he began to reflect on how Hillel could help them seize this newfound opportunity to form a strong Jewish connection.
At 2:30pm on March 11, 2020, just as our sephardic Jewish learning programs were finishing, Governor Cuomo shut down the CUNY schools for the rest of the semester. We were worried. Not because many of our secular students would lose their only Jewish outlet, or our traditional and orthodox students would lose their only secular environment, and not only because our students would lose their communal space for programs and personal growth, but because so many of our students relied on Hillel for some of their most basic needs.
While Gen Z, those born after 1995, are often known for being “digital natives,” like all humans before them they overwhelmingly crave in-person connection. Their adolescent digital lives are often disrupted in college by life-changing interactions, which we all recall from our own college experiences. Of the many assaults of 2020, the deleterious effects of the pandemic on college students and their quest for human connection should rank high.
By using online platforms like Zoom, Hillel International has strengthened its global programming efforts, connecting Jewish students thousands of miles apart. And for all those travel restrictions, it’s certainly been a very global year for Hillel.
With many colleges and universities delaying the start of the spring semester to the end of January, or forced to continue substituting in-person classes with virtual learning, Hillel International, the world’s largest Jewish campus organization, is launching its first-ever Winterfest throughout January, connecting students through some 170 small-setting experiences at universities in nine countries to provide meaningful Jewish learning to students on and off campus while countering increasing social isolation during the pandemic’s intensifying second wave.
Last week, December 14-15, 2020, Hillel International hosted its first virtual, seventh annual Hillel International Global Assembly (HIGA) and fourth Global Leadership Conference (GLC).