Reflections from Hillel’s New Professionals Institute 2023



July 28, 2023

Hillel’s New Professionals Institute is held every year at Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) for all new staff members in the Hillel movement. It is an opportunity for new professionals to connect with their peers from all over the world and to learn about the skills and values that make Hillel the largest and most inclusive Jewish campus organization in the world. Hannah Parish Erbrick, a first-year Springboard Fellow at Tulane University, shares her experience at NPI below:

Vibe Check:

As a brand new Ezra Jewish Education Springboard Fellow at Tulane Hillel, fresh off the plane from a year in Israel with Masa, all I knew about Hillel’s New Professionals Institute (NPI) was to bring an extra blanket because the WashU dorms would be cold. While I had been involved with Hillel at Tulane University as a student, I was not sure what to expect as a staff member and a Springboard Fellow. 

What I found was warmth (thanks in part to the extra blanket!), caring, and fun. Every new Hillel professional who came to St. Louis this week walked in with an open heart and ready to learn. The collaborative, relationship-focused environment was so familiar to me from my days as a student — it really carried through to every interaction and every session at NPI. It was incredible to be surrounded by people who are joyfully working together for a common mission — to enhance the lives of Jewish students on campus. 

Three Moments of Wonder:

Throughout NPI, I found moments of inspiration and connection that are fueling my excitement for my work at Tulane Hillel. Here are just a few:

I often struggle with what I call “Jewish insecurity” — a feeling that I am not Jewish enough or don’t know enough about Judaism. Growing up in an interfaith family and not being raised traditionally Jewish, I was apprehensive about becoming a Jewish educator at Hillel. Before NPI, I knew that this fellowship would be an opportunity to enhance my Judaism, but I didn’t anticipate how many people I would meet from all different kinds of Jewish backgrounds. It was an amazing experience to speak with people who work at Hillel and who come from backgrounds like mine. I’m leaving NPI feeling like Hillel is a place where I can thrive and belong.

One of the most powerful moments at NPI was when my Springboard cohort studied a Torah text together. We discussed the story of Rabbi Akiva, a sage from the Mishnah and the Talmud who didn’t start learning Torah until he was 40 years old. I love connecting with Judaism through text and find it so meaningful to see myself and my experience of learning Torah for the first time as an adult reflected in texts that are thousands of years old. I’m excited to bring that connection and meaning to learning sessions with students. 

In one of our other cohort sessions, the facilitators wrote out Jewish texts on poster boards all over the room. We each walked around the room and added our reactions to the different texts. Then we added our reactions to our peers’ reactions. Over the course of the hour, we created a living Talmud of commentary and reflections on these meaningful texts. It was a moment filled with joy and connection with our tradition which I’m so excited to bring back to campus. 

What I’m Bringing Back:

As I pack my bags and head back to New Orleans, there are two ideas from the week that are sitting with me. 

For the first time, I encountered a famous Jewish text from Pirkei Avot, Chapter 2, “Rabbi Tarfon used to say: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” When I feel overwhelmed by the challenge that I’m taking on in my Hillel work, I remember this text and use it to center myself. It is my job to work with students to enhance their Jewish lives, and I have a team and a movement of people on my side doing the work with me and helping me grow and learn. 

The other idea that continues to resonate with me is that failure is an opportunity for learning. I will fail, my students will fail, and we will use those moments to learn together how to move forward. Empowering student leaders is a big part of the work I’m excited for at Hillel, and this framing is inspiring me to start building those relationships and seeking out those moments of growth and learning.