Building a Global Community with Hillel



June 26, 2023

Being Jewish means being part of a global community with multifaceted and  diverse identities. Hillel International believes that tapping into that global community and connecting all kinds of Jewish young adults builds a stronger and more vibrant world. With that in mind, Hillel sponsors alternative break trips that are designed to introduce Jewish students to new and unique stories and communities. 

Graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently traveled to Argentina with MIT Hillel to learn about the Jewish community in Buenos Aires. Here are some of their thoughts and reflections about their experience:

Elyssa Hofgard, PhD Student in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science: While in Buenos Aires, we visited the Museo de la Shoa, the city’s Holocaust Museum, and I was so moved by the entire museum. Throughout the trip, my cohort was discussing our views and relationships with Israel, and the Museo de la Shoa made me re-examine those conversations. As an American Jew who hasn’t directly experienced antisemitism, it is easy to feel disconnected from Israel. However, learning about the staggering tragedy and inhumanity of the Holocaust from the perspective of the Argentinian Jewish community made me appreciate and understand the importance of having a Jewish state. 

After visiting the museum, I committed to educating myself about and forming my own views towards Israel, rather than adopting others’ opinions. I am so grateful for this experience, and I am taking a newfound appreciation for my Jewish identity home with me. This trip taught me that Judaism is a global community and culture, and one that I am proud to be part of.

Daniel Sellers, PhD Student in Microbiology: As I return to the US, I feel a renewed sense of Jewish purpose. I felt similarly when I first came home from visiting Israel, but my inspiration feels more sustainable this time. I have a greater understanding of how I can create a unique Jewish identity that is meaningful to me and how I can incorporate Jewish practices and community in my life. An important factor in reaching that understanding was the opportunity to meet and form relationships with some wonderful Jewish peers from MIT. I now have a Jewish community that I feel comfortable with, all of whom are committed to maintaining the friendship that we built in Argentina. 

Judaism is about the people I share it with, and this trip to Argentina will continue long after we leave Buenos Aires. I am deeply grateful for such an unforgettable experience and look forward to creating many more memories with my new Jewish community. 

Eva Nates, PhD Student in Mechanical Engineering: The people on this trip truly made the experience memorable. It’s a strange experience to go on an international trip with people who start out  as strangers, only to feel so close to them in one week’s time. It was a perfect reminder that everyone has something going on beneath their top layer and how much depth people have. We talked about our research, but we also laughed at silly encounters, enjoyed delicious meals, and everything in between. 

When we discussed our shared memories, I was reminded of Jewish experiences from childhood. Something as simple as Hebrew school, where I would go each Wednesday and Sunday growing up, had not crossed my mind in many years. But, when I thought about it, I thought of the strong community we had as kids. This group reminded me of that community. 

Through shared experiences we created memories, learned about each other’s lives, and grew. Our Jewish peoplehood brought us together, and it is not a bad way to keep us together. I know we will have Shabbat dinners, Passover seders, and Rosh Hashanah celebrations together in the future, whether at Hillel, or at one of our homes. I grew as a human, a Jew, and a global citizen this week, and am inspired to continue tending to these parts of my identity.

Stay tuned for more stories from Hillel’s alternative break experiences.