It’s not just trees that grow in Vermont! University of Vermont’s Jewish student life has been growing and flourishing this year with programs and spaces that nourish students’ bodies and voices.
With a 60% increase in student engagement this year (up 500 students from the first semester last year), Burack Hillel at University of Vermont is cultivating a vibrant community that offers light, joy, and connection for every student. Each branch of UVM Burack Hillel’s programming is focused on building a strong, sustainable home for Jewish life on campus.
One of UVM Burack Hillel’s most unique programs is Hillel Fresh, an opportunity for students to learn about sustainable farming and cooking through a Jewish lens. In partnership with the University of Vermont Research Farm, students grow their own produce, study Jewish texts and land traditions alongside modern agricultural practices, and prepare Shabbat dinner together using the produce from the farm.
Leah Kostick (UVM ‘22), Hillel Fresh’s first intern, reflected, “As a proud Jewish woman and an environmentalist, my mission for Hillel Fresh is to help students connect with their Jewish roots, enjoy fresh foods, and learn about their carbon footprint.” Through the efforts of Leah and her fellow student leaders, Hillel Fresh has provided over 2,000 students with fresh, nourishing, and sustainable Shabbat meals over the last two years.
UVM Burack Hillel also loves to ski (c’mon…it’s VERMONT)! Celebrating Hanukkah while shredding down a mountain last year was a true bright spot for many UVM students. Students are also excited to celebrate Shabbat together on this year’s February ski trip, known as Shine a Light, part of a global initiative of the same name that helps dispel the darkness of antisemitism. The Shine a Light ski trip gives students the chance to celebrate and take pride in being Jewish together — with a uniquely UVM spirit. As Matt Vogel, Executive Director of UVM Hillel, said, “Because of UVM Burack Hillel, Jewish students at UVM are proud to be Jewish everywhere.”
The ski trip also comes during a time when the University of Vermont administration is publicly expressing and showing support for Jewish students in Burlington. Following concerns raised last year about the environment for Jewish students on campus, at the end of the fall semester the university held a series of listening sessions with Jewish students to better understand their needs and concerns, launched a new website devoted to Jewish life on campus, collaborated with UVM Burack Hillel to create the Exploring Jewish Culture program, and hosted antisemitism training for faculty and staff.
Sophie Ostrovitz (UVM ‘26), Student President of UVM Burack Hillel, believes that the strength of UVM Burack Hillel is rooted in its commitment to help every student find their own pathway to Jewish connection and joy. “I see Hillel as a place where everyone can come as their true selves and be Jewish, however it is meaningful to them,” Sophie said. As UVM Burack Hillel uplifts Jewish students, Sophie is sure that the community’s diversity and innovation will fuel the continued flourishing of Jewish life at UVM.