For Polina Shchetinina, cross-cultural competence is a necessary skill.
“I always seek out people from different backgrounds,” Shchetinina said. “The friends I’ve made from Hillels in Brazil, Israel, Hungary and other countries are facing different problems in their Jewish communities. And I think that’s how we’ve been able to learn from one another.”
Shchetinina, who lives in Moscow and is active in Hillel Russia, traveled more than 5,000 miles to attend the American Jewish Committee Global Forum, a Jewish policy and advocacy conference. The 24-year-old was one of 40 Matthew Bronfman Fellows who flew to Washington, D.C. for the conference as well as a global Hillel Shabbaton.
The Hillel participants constituted the largest delegation of young professionals at the forum. They represented 17 Hillels worldwide, including established Hillels in South America, Israel, Europe and the former Soviet Union.
One of the first sessions Shchetinina and her peers attended was “Loud and Clear: Effective Messaging for Campus Advocates.” Featured panelist Jessica Sugarman, a digital marketing associate at Hillel International, discussed how students can effectively spread their message across campus.
"You’re going to encounter people on campus with opposite views,” Sugarman said. “Not every encounter is an opportunity to engage, but many of them are a chance to engage and teach someone something new.”
The three-day conference offered more than 40 sessions, drawing roughly 2,500 people from 70 countries. Participants heard from diverse leaders such as Houda Nonoo, the first female Bahraini ambassador to the United States, and Kiyoto Tsuji, parliamentary vice minister for foreign affairs of Japan.
Dylan Bokler, a student involved in Hillel Buenos Aries, said he learned that communication is a tool that can be used to advocate for Judaism and Israel.
“We can’t build bridges by staying within our community bubble,” Bowler said. “Jewish people living all over the world have different realities. That’s why education is key.”
Adela Cojab, a Hillel student representing the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University, accepted the Sharon Greene Award for combating anti-Semitism and advocating for Israel on campus. A Portuguese and Spanish speaker, Cojab was able to engage in meaningful conversations with participants of Hillel Rio and Hillel Argentina about the issues facing college students in the United States.
Eric D. Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, also met with the international Hillel participants during the conference.
Hillel Warsaw participant Abraham Hayman said he will use the skills he learned at the forum to help strengthen his Hillel and build a community of Polish-Jewish educators.
“Because of the Holocaust, many of my friends are just discovering their Jewish roots,” Hayman said. “They need an open space like Hillel Warsaw to explore what Judaism means to them.”
The 25-year-old said the conference resonated with one of his core beliefs — Jewish unity.
“The Jewish people have to be a unified front,” he said. “Although we have different views, we are all Jewish and we all share the same values.”