A version of this piece was featured on Trinity College's website.
Last weekend, 21 Hillel students and 4 Hillel professionals representing five different colleges in Connecticut convened at Trinity College for the first Connecticut Hillel Student Leader Conference. Hillel student presidents and executive board members from Trinity College, University of Connecticut, Eastern Connecticut State University, Connecticut College, and University of Hartford came together to meet and talk about topics of shared interest. Students established new connections with other Hillel communities, heard challenging and inspiring stories from individuals who have developed positive relationships on their campuses, and cultivated ideas aimed at building vibrant Jewish community connections among students on Connecticut campuses.
Trinity Hillel Student President Ethan Cantor ’16 designed the conference with help from Trinity Hillel Director Lisa Kassow and Trinity Hillel Program Manager Amy Zylberman. "College students are often told that we get to live in a bubble for four years," Cantor said. "We often forget about what is going on just a few miles outside of campus. I believe this conference will help burst bubbles and build lasting bridges between the vibrant Hillel communities across the state of Connecticut."
Cantor reached out to every college in Connecticut with an active Hillel presence and invited student leaders of those groups. "Everyone was very receptive to the idea," he said. "I wanted to get Hillel student leaders to come together under one roof to meet and discuss the achievements and challenges that we have been facing on our campuses.
Students were asked to share their thoughts about Judaism through the lenses of self, community, and the bigger frame of Jewish peoplehood. Topics included relating our work to shared Jewish values, Jewish life on campus, event attendance and marketing, creative expressions of Shabbat and holidays, Israel engagement on campus, tikkun olam, and how we can translate words into action.
Dylan Morpurgo, campus coordinator for the David Project, presented the methodology of “relational advocacy” which emphasizes building relationships with diverse communities on campus focused on topics concerning Israel. Trinity is a core campus of the David Project. Trinity Hillel Israel Chair Nicole Katav ’17 spoke about her fellowship with the Israel on Campus Coalition, which has allowed her to create diverse Israel programming at Trinity, including Hispanic Shabbat, co-sponsored by La Voz Latina, the Hispanic cultural house on campus, and an upcoming program with the House of Peace, the Middle Eastern cultural house, about the Jews from Arab lands. Simon Luxemberg, Connecticut College '18, shared his gratitude for the opportunities Hillel creates with regards to Israel. "Through Hillel, the conversation of Israel helps to educate and inform students as we all figure out what role we want Israel playing in our everyday lives," Luxemberg said.
Students and professionals alike were excited about sharing ideas, challenges and best practices with each other. The group agreed on the goal of meeting once a semester, with students sharing insights from past experiences and inviting other Hillel communities to join together for upcoming events. Throughout the day, students consistently voiced the shared value of building community together.
"We all have different stories that brought us to the same conclusion,” said Joshua Squire, University of Connecticut '15. “We want Hillel and the Jewish community to be a part of our lives during college and after. It was so great to meet like-minded students from the broader Connecticut Jewish community. I hope this event will be a catalyst to create relationships between Jewish college students beyond their individual Hillel communities."
Amy Zylberman is the Program Manager at Trinity College Hillel.