Meet Meredith Burak
Meredith Burak, a former member of Hillel International’s Board of Director and a long time supporter of the Burak University of Vermont Hillel, sat down with Hillel International to speak about her experience with Hillel and what makes her passionate about the work that Hillel does.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Burlington, VT and now I go between Tel Aviv, NY, and Philadelphia.
What is your profession?
I am an entrepreneur in the cannabis and biotech industry in Jerusalem.
When was the first time you became active with Hillel, and what did you do?
UVM Hillel reached out to me before I even started my first class as a first year student. But it wasn’t until the beginning of my second year that I wanted to get involved with something bigger than myself. I was studying the Holocaust more in depth, I took a yearlong class on the religious and moral response to the Holocaust, and I was searching for more meaning in my life.
I connected with Hillel and shared that I would love to focus on social justice work. The Hillel director at the time introduced me to different program options, including work around the 2004 ethnic cleansing in Sudan. There wasn’t a lot written on it at the time, so I started researching Sudan and Darfur and wanted to get more involved. The Hillel staff believed in me and I started a campus club, called Stand, that gave me tremendous leadership training. Stand is a student-led movement that works to end mass atrocities and genocide. Hillel was also the first organization to send me to Israel in 2005. Being at Hillel was the first time I didn’t feel like I stood out for being Jewish. I didn’t have to feel like the ‘other.’
Any time I walked through the doors of my Hillel, the question from the staff was always, “what do you want to accomplish?”, “how can we help you?”, and in the meantime, “please come for Shabbat!”
Why do you think Hillel’s work is crucial today?
Hillel is such a huge opportunity to connect people all over the world. I’ve taken the road of supporting Hillels outside of North America. I was there for the opening of Hillel Krakow, I met with the chair of Hillel Moscow, and with Latin America Hillels. Hillel is the center of Jewish life for these communities.
What trends do you see right now in Jewish life on campus?
Today’s Jewish students are on campus during a unique moment in history. We are more than 70 years past the Holocaust and Israel is a thriving country, it’s growing into a world leader, and it can save the world with technology, water, agriculture, and medicine. The world can benefit from the innovation that happens in Israel.
With Israel past its infancy, conversations on campus are shifting from survival to a more nuanced, political relationship with Israel. It’s important for those of us who work with students to keep our eyes on those shifts to be able to support students in those conversations.
How do you draw on your background as a leader to help your local Hillel’s governance?
We grow stronger from debate; it’s a Jewish value. So as a board member we need to challenge our way of thinking, we need to listen to people who are living this work every day. As an entrepreneur, I understand the value of having a strong team and learning from the work that happens around you.
What are the most important skills our leaders need to help guide Hillel through the 21st century?
Listening. Listen to the students and our professionals on campus.
What do you think Hillel’s lay leaders from different parts of the world can learn from each other?
This world is global. Hillel has such wealth in their resources and wealth in their connections and network – we need all of them, not just one.