Fostering Dialogue and Fighting Stigma



June 14, 2017

Since the launch of the inaugural Hillel International Ruderman Inclusion Ambassador program in August 2016, seven students on local Hillel campuses have made it their mission this past school year to make sure no Jewish student is left out. The focus of each student’s work has centered around engaging students with disabilities, and making sure each student is connected Jewishly through Hillel.

Lily Rosencrantz, Hillel at the University of Washington ‘19, created programming last winter for inclusion emphasizing peer discussion. At her Feb. 28 event, ‘Matzo Ball Soup for the Soul,’ a play on the popular young adult book series, students ate matzo ball soup while listening to Danica Bornstein, a part-time clinical therapist on the UW Hillel staff. Together, they discussed mental health and its portrayal in the media, while fostering a safe space for students to talk about their current struggles.

Rachel Berman, Virginia Tech Hillel ’17, hosted an art-making event on March 22, inviting the Muslim Students Association, The Disability Alliance, Actively Caring for People and other groups. At the event, 25 people made sculptures and painted canvases, prompting conversations around each other’s artwork. Guests listened to speakers Amanda Zingale, a student at Roanoke College, who spoke about her life with cerebral palsy, and graduate assistant Liz Spingola, president of the campus Disability Alliance.

Two Virginia Tech Hillel students show their art from Berman’s event.

“We wanted to make the event extremely inclusive of all groups on campus,” Said Berman.

After the event, the students’ artwork was displayed at the Virginia Tech student center, along with an explanation of Berman’s event.

Virginia Tech’s Spingola said the event “shows how committed Hillel is to breaking stigmas surrounding disabilities, both visible and invisible, on campus and within the surrounding communities.” She added, “In the future I know that Hillel is a wonderful and meaningful partner to help provide additional information and disperse impactful education that makes students with disabilities comfortable and able to reach their full potential here at Virginia Tech.”

Aderet Averick, College of Staten Island ’17, jumped right into the school year by hosting an inclusion training session followed by an ice cream social on Sept. 15 for Jewish students designed to make everyone feel welcomed.

Averick reached out to the Alpha Club (a club on campus associated with the accessibility office), Veterans Support Services and the LGBTQ Resource Center to make sure she would reach as many people as possible. Some 25 people attended her event, which took place outside the campus center.

Students from the Hillel at College of Staten Island gather for Ruderman Ambassador Aderet Averick’s ice cream social.

“For me,” said Averick, who has a learning disorder herself, “it was important to ensure that people who have learning disorders, and physical and invisible disabilities would be able to go, and not explain what they have or feel in any way awkward.”

Hillel International looks forward to expanding the number of Ruderman Inclusion Ambassadors next year and hosting a specialized disability inclusion training this coming August at Hillel Institute, a student and professional engagement and leadership conference, thanks to support from the Ruderman Family Foundation and a matching grant from Itzhak Perlman and the Genesis Prize.