Behind the Scenes at HIGA 2022



December 23, 2022

At the opening plenary of the 2022 Hillel International Global Assembly (HIGA 2022), Erez Cohen, HIGA 2022 Co-Chair and Executive Director of Hillel at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, asked everyone who was attending HIGA for the first time to stand up. After two years of convening virtually, there was a sea of people who stood up and celebrated being at their first in-person HIGA. 

But it wasn’t just newbies who flocked to Dallas to convene with 1,000 Hillel professionals, partners, and supporters. In the opening plenary, professionals celebrating their five, 10, 15, 20, and even 25-year milestones were honored!

In reflecting on the lessons learned and connections made last week at HIGA, we asked Hillel professionals from throughout the movement to share their highs, lows, and biggest takeaways from their HIGA 2022 experience. 

Colleagues take a moment to catch up in the re-creation of the barbershop over which the first Hillel was founded.

What was your peach and pit (high and low) from HIGA 2022?

Alli Rubinstein, Manager of Early Career Talent at Hillel International: My peach from my time at HIGA was getting to spend so much time catching up with colleagues I haven’t seen since New Professionals Institute and meeting colleagues in person who I’ve only ever known in a Zoom box! The joy in the room was contagious and so inspiring. My HIGA pit was how quickly the week passed! I wish I could go back and do it all over again.  

Leah Chakoff, Director of Strategic Grants at Hillel International: My peach was having the opportunity to meet people in person I have worked with virtually for years but have never had the chance to meet in person. I also really enjoyed seeing colleagues I’ve known for a long time but have not seen since the last in-person HIGA. I shared some very big hugs—it felt like an overdue reunion!

My pit was saying goodbye to someone on my team, whose last week with Hillel is this week. She has been a part of the Hillel family for many years, so it was a tough moment, but I’m grateful we were able to send her off in person!

Taking a selfie with Adam Lehman, President and CEO of Hillel International, is a highlight at HIGA.

Russell Gottschalk, Vice President for Campus Support Services at Hillels of Georgia : The peach was being around colleagues. We have some real rockstars in the Hillel ecosystem. I thought the futurist visioning could have been even more productive. I think a “recognize 100, look out 10” would have been really interesting and helpful.

Jami O’Rourke, Senior Administrative Assistant at Hillel International: My peach was being able to spend time with coworkers that I don’t normally get to interact with. I was able to grow existing relationships and create new ones. My pit is that I decided to wear new shoes on the first day, which resulted in some large blisters on my feet. 

What was your biggest lesson learned/takeaway from HIGA 2022?

Alli: My biggest takeaway from HIGA is that the movement is focused on progress and growth more than anything. Hillel is really striving to be THE place for folks to feel like they can be their true, authentic Jewish selves without compromising any other part of their identity. Being surrounded by so many industry leaders with that mission in mind was really full circle for someone who didn’t know any other Jews growing up and then was told I wasn’t “Jewish enough” when I did meet other Jews. I’m really proud to work at Hillel, and I’m looking forward to the work we still have to accomplish to make all Jews feel welcome. 

The EmPOWERment Lunch is a unique time for female-identifying professionals and male-identifying allies to connect with each other and share experiences.

Leah: My biggest takeaway from HIGA 2022 is that Hillel hires the most thoughtful, passionate, and hardworking professionals. From the many one-on-one, pre-planned meetings I had, to the impromptu conversations I had at the bar, and even while folding underwear for a greater cause, I was able to interact with professionals varying in years of experience and job title. I am so in awe of the Hillel professionals I met and inspired by their dedication.

Russell: The biggest lesson I learned is the power of community. I found the most meaningful moments in and around the Executive Directors cohort, where I learned from luminaries in the field and those that have similar roles to me. I have an atypical position in the Hillel ecosystem, and connecting with peers who genuinely care about my success was a HUGE win for me.

The joy and celebration of colleagues and friends connecting and reconnecting at HIGA.

Jami: This was my first HIGA, as I have only worked for Hillel International for five months. In my day-to-day work, I typically interact with the same few people in my happy little corner of Hillel. Being at HIGA, surrounded by so many people, really made me realize how much we are impacting people all over the world… and even the work I do in my little corner helps to make the lives better of all these amazing people!