In keeping with the core Jewish principle of nurturing the mind, body, and spirit, Hillel International recently awarded 29 grants to support student wellness. These microgrants, totaling more than $25,000, not only promote student connection, relaxation, and belonging, but they also serve to mitigate the impact of rising antisemitism on college campuses following Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7th. With more than one in three Jewish students reporting the need to hide their Jewish identity on campus, this funding helps Hillels create meaningful community where students feel seen, safe, and supported.
Sarah Cohn, Associate Director of Student and Staff Wellbeing and clinical social worker, shared the importance of this support in this moment: “Our Student Wellness Grants are so impactful, because they are designed to address the unique needs of students on their respective campuses. We help Hillel professionals personalize initiatives, which empowers Hillel communities to co-create particularly meaningful and engaging offerings that students need and want.”
Read on to learn more about just three of the projects we are supporting: Vanderbilt Hillel, Oregon Hillel, and Hillels of Westchester, who demonstrated a commitment to supporting students’ holistic wellbeing while sharing meaningful outlets unique to their communities.
Embracing the Outdoors: Vanderbilt Hillel’s Out’Dores Program
Vanderbilt Hillel’s ongoing Hillel Out’Dores program combines nature, Judaism, and community. By organizing hikes, swims, climbs, and kayaking, students explore the intersection of Judaism and nature. At Vanderbilt, students particularly enjoy this opportunity to get off campus and into nature in and beyond Nashville. Carly Payne, Vanderbilt Hillel’s Jewish Student Life Engagement Coordinator, shares that, “Keeping up with the demands of college classes can be stressful. This program gives students the ability to take a break and explore the outdoors, while making meaningful memories with new and old friends alike.”
Rosh Chodesh: A Place for Connection at Oregon Hillel
Oregon Hillel’s Rosh Chodesh group continues to grow as a source of support and connection for female-identifying and non-binary students. This monthly gathering fosters a sense of community and spirituality, offering a space for conversation, reflection, and mindfulness. The Hillel International microgrant will help to cover supplies and materials for the year. In light of the rise in antisemitism on college campuses across the U.S., 4 out of 5 students reported that Hillel and Jewish spaces on campus are more important than ever. This initiative is a critical step in fostering connection among students by providing a supportive environment where they can immerse themselves in ancient wisdom.
“Oregon Hillel’s Rosh Chodesh program seeks to address wellness through a holistic approach that includes mental well-being, building deeper relationships, and practicing spiritual wellness through our mindfulness activities. With the recent terrorist attack in Israel and the rise of antisemitism, students feel particularly vulnerable and disconnected,” explains Alexandra Malve, Zidell Family Innovation Springboard Fellow at Oregon Hillel.
Programs like this one create meaningful spaces on campus for the Jewish community to safely gather and express themselves.
Hebrew School Sex Ed: Hillels of Westchester Breaking Boundaries
Hillels of Westchester are embarking on a groundbreaking initiative with the launch of the Hebrew School Sex Ed (HSSE) program, which aims to provide a safe, Jewishly-informed space for comprehensive sexual health education. By emphasizing inclusivity, consent, and intersectionality, this program fosters understanding, respect, and belonging among students. HSSE explicitly welcomes those with queer identities, opening the doors for those who may have previously felt excluded from parts of Jewish life. Madison Leifer, Hillels of Westchester’s Social Justice Springboard Fellow, reflects that: “By offering a Jewish space that is inclusive of all gender and sexual identities, we help create a sense of belonging for many of our queer or questioning students.”
Westchester is breaking boundaries on previously taboo topics while also creating intentional community where students can learn and explore the many ways they can interact with Judaism on a daily basis.
These three projects showcase the diverse ways Hillel nurtures the well-being of students by honoring Jewish traditions and values. Hillels across the country, and world, are facilitating meaningful and engaging opportunities for Jewish expression where students can experience much-needed security and comfort while deepening their Jewish identity.