Hannah Elovitz was a member of the inaugural cohort of the Masa-Hillel Fellows. The fourteen fellows came together for a six-month professional development seminar during their time in Israel through a partnership between Hillel and Masa. Learn more about the cohort here.
On the first day of my year at Pardes, we gathered in the beit midrash for orientation and watched a 6-minute TED Talk called Everyday Leadership by Drew Dudley. If you haven’t seen it (you should!), the premise is that some of the most important moments of leadership are those that we may not even remember - a conversation, comment, small piece of advice, a moment that turns out to change someone’s life. In this particular story, just when a young woman at orientation had decided she wasn’t ready for university, a complete stranger (Drew), came on to the scene handing out lollipops, acting completely goofy and making everyone in the room crack up. Years later the woman told Drew (who didn’t remember her or the story) that he had changed her life. In that moment, she said, she knew she was ready for university. (Also, unbeknownst to her, in that moment she was standing in line next to her future husband.) This idea of “lollipop moments” has stuck with me ever since.
At the core of Hillel is its investment in people. Hillel professionals, student interns and leaders work to tap the potential of other students. By providing one-on-one engagement, mentorship, alternative break trips, educational opportunities, and so much more, Hillel tells students, “Hey - we know that you’re great, and we’re going to help you reach your potential because we just know you’re going to change the world."
I believe I am where I am today because of the people and organizations that invested in me. I owe huge thanks in particular to Maryland Hillel, Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Masa Israel Journey, the Masa-Hillel Fellowship, and all the fabulous people I’ve met through these places. In each of these settings, people saw in me potential and gave me knowledge, resources, inspiration, networks of like-minded and -goaled people, and incredible mentors that helped me see myself differently and grow personally and professionally into the person I am today. Because Hillel is the central address for Jewish life on campus, it is uniquely positioned to reach and connect much of the Jewish population. Hillel, in partnership with many incredible organizations, has the ability to tap students to become change makers and impact the world.
In my role at Hillel, I share news from local campuses through Hillel International’s channels online, so I would say I’m pretty in the know. But I don’t think I quite fully understood the potential impact of Hillel until our inaugural Global Assembly in Orlando earlier this month. While virtual sharing can tell us a lot, it can ultimately only give us a 2D experience. A snapshot. A moment. A quote. But what happened after? Before? What were the people featured in the article really thinking and feeling in the moment? What are the conversations happening on the sidelines that give students and professionals their drive? Gathering together allows us to connect on a personal level that is just not possible online. When all 600+ conference attendees were in one room, the energy and potential was tangible, and in fact amplified, by being together. It was a completely different experience to talk to so many Hillel professionals and students in person, to learn what's happening behind the scenes. The stories that the camera often does not capture can be the most impactful and real, even if they don't have a virtual representation. These are the stories that deserve to be shared.
Chanukah comes at the darkest and coldest time of year, a time when it's easy to feel depressed and hopeless. So, in the dead of winter, when night fully sets in, what do we do? We come together and light the chanukiah, ner ish u’beito, each person with their household (Talmud Shabbat 21b). We bring a little bit of light into the world and take time to be together - to eat, laugh, sing, share. We are instructed to put the chanukiah outside our doors or in our windows to publicize the miracle, pirsumei nisa, so we don’t just keep this light to ourselves, but place it where it can touch others.
The unique thing about light (or a lollipop moment) is that when it’s shared, it doesn’t diminish, but rather it increases. The more we give and share, the more we create.
I hope that this Chanukah and winter season, when everything seems dark, both the weather and the news, we can come together to bring a little light into the world - literally, with candles, and also through connecting to people around us. And then put it in the window or doorway, so we can tap others to see themselves as change makers who will go on to shape this world for the better.
Hannah Elovitz is the Communications Associate at Hillel International. She studied Marketing and Religious Studies at the University of Maryland and spent a year at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, where she was also a Masa-Hillel Fellow.