Rolling out the welcome mat



July 20, 2016

Each year, freshmen start college and seek out a new home away from home on campus. They’re leaving behind family, friends and a routine ingrained in them for most of their young adult lives. A new environment can be overwhelming, as Sarah Holtz discovered last year when she arrived at Pennsylvania State University.

Local Hillels plan events to make sure new students can transition seamlessly into a welcoming Jewish environment. From traditional Shabbat services to lawn barbecues with live music, Hillel makes sure that new students always have a home on campus—starting on Day One.

Some local Hillels welcome freshmen with traditional events, such as an outdoor gathering to enjoy the summer weather. Cornell Hillel will offer a lawn barbecue with music from a DJ. New students will get the chance to meet both each other and upperclassmen, and learn about different Jewish clubs that Cornell Hillel has on campus. Freshmen looking for an outdoor adventure are in luck: University of California at Berkeley Hillel will take new students around the Bay Area on a hike. Students may eat at Hillel beforehand, then journey to see views of San Francisco, Berkeley and the bay.

Who doesn’t love a good game of Jewish geography, too? That’s Sarah Holtz’s best memory from welcome week.

“I remember that we launched into an intense game of Jewish geography and found how many people we knew in common,” said Holtz about her Hillel welcome week experience. “I met tons of new Jewish freshman students and, over time, found my best friends.” 

Some welcome events are a little more bohemian. In true Greenwich Village style, the Bronfman Center at New York University will be hosting its annual LGBTQ Drag Show with the LGBT Center at NYU. This annual event features Lady SinAGaga, an Orthodox Jewish drag queen.

“She shared her inspiring story of finding coexistence between her queer and Jewish identities,” said Madeline Dolgin, New York University, class of 2016, and now Springboard fellow. “It’s definitely a must-see for freshmen interested in exploring the diversity that the Jewish community at NYU has to offer.” Dolgin continued, “What I love most is Hillel’s openness to a diversity of perspectives. It’s what initially made me feel so comfortable in the community.”

Let’s face it: Food is always a draw—and often a comfort. Taking a break from the classic Shabbat menu this fall, Arizona State University Hillel will offer a Sushi Shabbat. This kosher sushi dinner welcomes students to their first Shabbat of the school year. After unwinding from moving in, new students may want to cool off a little bit. Hillel at Kent State University is serving up what they need at an ice cream social this fall. 

For students passionate about social justice, Hillels like Berkeley host a Challah for Hunger welcome week event, with proceeds going to hunger relief.

Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, executive director of University of California Berkeley’s Hillel, believes these welcome events for freshmen make it easier for them to see Hillel as home. “Throughout the beginning of the academic year, our goal is to create as many opportunities to facilitate students’ building friendships that will anchor their Jewish journey throughout their time at UC Berkeley.”