Hillel 2.0



January 8, 2016

1. There are no sacred cows. 

2. It’s OK to fail. 

That’s the advice Ollie Benn had for his staff on his first day as executive director of San Francisco Hillel. Benn, a former tech lawyer who joined SF Hillel this year, wanted to treat SF Hillel like a startup. That meant creating space for staff and students to experiment, try new things and not panic if they didn’t work out. 

That approach is already paying off. Benn and Assistant Director Rachel Nilson led a “design thinking” session with staff to re-imagine what Shabbat could be. The result was Shabbat Your Way, where students take ownership of their own Shabbat experiences. This includes a monthly Shabbat 2.0, nicknamed “Snapchat Shabbat,” during which students host Shabbat in small groups in their homes and later share experiences via social media. 

Benn also used startup methodology to expand SF Hillel from its traditional base at San Francisco State University to serve Jewish students at the University of San Francisco and University of California, Hastings College of Law. “We started small to prove students wanted Jewish life on campus,” said Benn. “We experimented with different events to figure out what worked best.” 

Those experiments are paying off, say students. “Students feel more engaged than ever,” said San Francisco State University senior Jason Steckler. “You can see Ollie’s influence. SF Hillel has grown so quickly and in such a great way.”