At Hillel’s Centennial Event, We Celebrated Our Past — And Imagined the Future



April 16, 2024

In 1923, Rabbi Benjamin Frankel opened the first Hillel at
the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign with a noble mission: to nurture Jewish traditions, and give Jewish students a place to find joy in their community. Since then, Hillel International has grown into the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. 

Now we’re celebrating Hillel’s centennial – marking 100 years of Hillel’s impact on Jewish students and the Jewish community. We were honored this week to host our “Here’s to 100” celebration, along with students, lay leaders, and professionals from around the world who came together to reflect on our first 100 years and chart the course for the next century of Jewish life on campus. 

Here are the top ten highlights from this incredible event:

1. Nearly a thousand attendees marked the occasion — a testament to Hillel’s impact.

Hillel professionals, student leaders, young alumni, and supporters on the local, national, and international levels gathered in New York City for experiences that included special programming and performances, featured speakers, and incredible experiences at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and on the waterfront at Pier Sixty. 

“Our work at Hillel has never been more relevant,” said Adam Lehman, president and CEO of Hillel International, during remarks on Monday evening. “Hillel is the answer to so many of the needs of young Jews today – the need for belonging, the need for a safe and inclusive community, the need for meaning and purpose, the need for insight, and the need for a platform that enables their personal growth and thriving. We are that platform.”

“So, as we celebrate 100 years of Hillel, let’s lean into the love that will fuel our next 100 years,” he added.

2. Festivities kicked off on Sunday night with a performance by Tizmoret, Queens Hillel’s professional Jewish a cappella group with students from around NYC.

The connective and inspiring power of music has been part of Jewish tradition for generations, so what better way to start our 100-year celebration than with a concert from some of Hillel’s most talented a cappella singers? Tizmoret draws singers from colleges throughout the New York City area, and has taken Jewish collegiate a cappella to the next level, performing classic Jewish melodies, American pop music, and contemporary Israeli tunes. 

On Sunday night, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, they brought energy and passion to the audience with highlights from their repertoire, setting the tone for the rest of the summit — participants could be heard humming their favorite songs throughout the rest of the event.

3. Mentalist Jason Suran blew attendees’ minds with a “Here’s to: Reading the Room!” featured show.

Jason Suran, a Hillel alum himself, brought students, professionals, and supporters on stage with a performance that left attendees speechless and amazed. Shifting between humor, storytelling, and mind-boggling mentalism, Suran helped attendees tap into meaningful Jewish memories and connect with their Jewish identity. 

4. Monday’s opening plenary: Dreaming big about the future of Jewish life on campus. 

Programming began Monday morning at the Museum of Jewish Heritage with a student welcome, video, and featured remarks by Lee Dranikoff, chair of Hillel International’s Board of Directors, and Julie Platt, board chair of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Speakers focused on imagining Hillel’s second century – and a future where Jewish life on campus continues to thrive, while also acknowledging we are facing one of our most complex and challenging moments in our history.

Following that, Hillel International President and CEO Adam Lehman moderated a panel on envisioning the future of Jewish life on campus, with participants Amira Ahronoviz, CEO and director general for the Jewish Agency for Israel; Dr. Mijal Bitton, Rosh Kehilla (communal leader) and co-founder of the Downtown Minyan; and Rabbi Josh Bolton, executive director at Brown RISD Hillel. They discussed the best strategies for continuing to engage Jewish students and ways to animate even more vibrant and expansive Jewish campus communities. 

5. Workshops and critical conversations explore the challenges and opportunities for the next century.

Monday’s schedule offered two programming blocks for attendees: “Building Blocks of Hillel’s Next 100 Years,” a morning of centennial workshops, and “How Hillel Will Thrive in Our Next 100 Years,” an afternoon of critical conversations. The morning’s program included sessions that focused on building bridges during a time of polarization and creating a lasting Jewish identity. 

In the afternoon, participants explored some of the biggest challenges facing Hillels today through conversations about how Jewish college students are really doing on campus right now and examining our lasting connection with Israel.  

6. Focusing on “The New Realities and New Approaches to Jewish life on Campus,” closing plenary combined conversation, music, and inspiring remarks.

Matthew Bronfman, chair of Hillel International’s Board of Governors, began the closing plenary with solemn but hopeful remarks, giving context to Hillel’s centennial and setting the stage for a powerful concluding session. 

“What we could not have predicted, was how the Hillel movement — and the Jewish people — would be tested during these final months of our centennial year,” he said. “But once again, Hillel has done what it has done best for more than a century, supporting young Jews during a pivotal moment in their Jewish journeys. Enriching their lives, inspiring Jewish connections, keeping them safe, and empowering them to express their pride in being Jewish.”

Bronfman’s remarks were followed by a performance by Linoy Yechieli, Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at Greater Portland Hillel. A multilingual singer-songwriter who believes in bringing the Hebrew language to the front of the stage, Linoy performed her original song “Black Shirt,” about bringing the hostages home. 

The afternoon concluded with a panel discussion, “Life on Campus Post 10/7: What Changed and What is the Same?” Moderated by Lisa Eisen, co-president of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the panel included Sarah Hurwitz, author and former political speechwriter; Mark Rotenberg, vice president for University Initiatives and general counsel at Hillel International; and Greg Steinberger, president and CEO of University of Wisconsin Hillel.

7. Hillel hosted the “party of the century,” focused on celebration, community, and hope for the future.

Hillel’s Centennial culminated with a once-in-a-lifetime Hillel party that truly brought the campus experience to the celebration, took attendees on a virtual “Go with Hillel” trip to Israel, and brought them onto the dance floor!  The party also featured a welcome back to campus BBQ, interactive scrapbooks, digital journals, and games like cornhole. After a day of deep conversation, hard questions, and powerful speakers, attendees were able to let loose, have fun, and focus on celebrating Hillel’s work — and its future.

8. Plus a special performance by singer Lea Michele!

Best known for her breakout role as Rachel Berry on television series “Glee,” Lea Michele is an award-winning actress, singer, and New York Times bestselling author. She took the stage on Monday night to bring her incredible voice to the celebration, demonstrating the power of music to bring a community together. 

9. The celebration continued with an after party, featuring the Hillel House Band.

The Hillel House Band, made up of Hillel professionals across the movement at different stages in their career, wrapped the night with a fun and meaningful performance. As a surprise, Hillel International President and CEO Adam Lehman performed with them, showcasing his own musical talent. The band had a warm welcome from the crowd and was a big success.

10. As always, students played a prominent role in leading the conversation.

“From its inception, Hillel has been a source of strength for Jewish students, evolving and adapting to meet the unique needs of each generation,” said Samantha Brody, co-chair of the Hillel International Student Cabinet at Monday’s opening plenary. “Hillel empowers students to address the most pressing societal issues of their day through a Jewish lens, informed by Jewish values.”

At its core, Hillel is about putting the experiences of Jewish students front and center, and the Centennial event was no exception. Throughout the gathering, students led conversations, participated in panels, and gave remarks to participants, lending their unique perspectives on the challenging issues facing college students today. 

Student leaders Jeremy Davis, a senior at Ohio State University and Student Board President of OSU, and Jilian Lederman, current chair of the Hillel International Israel Leadership Network closed out the day at the Museum of Jewish Heritage with a final offering of hope, support, and belief in the next century of Hillel’s impact.

“No matter what the current realities are for Jewish life on campus, Hillel has — and always will — remain a constant for Jewish students,” Jeremy said. “There have been so many chapters to Hillel’s rich history of building Jewish life on campus, and so many more to be written. Today we turn the page, from one century to the next. Thank you for helping us write the next chapter.