College students across the country are headed back to school. At the University of Central Florida (UCF) and at New York University (NYU), two sisters are kicking off the school year as brand new Hillel staff members. Melina Ramirez, Engagement Manager at UCF Hillel, and Sofie Ramirez, Springboard Innovation Fellow at NYU Hillel, are excited to welcome students back to campus and to continue their own Hillel journeys.
Growing up in a small Jewish community on Long Island, Sofie and Melina were both deeply involved in their childhood synagogue, as well as BBYO.
When Melina started school at Florida Southern College, a school with a very small Jewish population, it was a new experience for her to be one of the only Jewish people that most of her classmates had ever met. She quickly became involved in the tight-knit Hillel community, and after graduation, decided that connecting with a larger, vibrant Jewish community, like the one she grew up with and the one she found on her gap year in Israel, was a priority for her career and life choices. After working for BBYO and her local JCC, she found her way back to Hillel where she is starting her first year as a Hillel professional.
Sofie’s journey also took her to Hillel as a student at Hofstra University on Long Island. Hofstra Hillel became an important part of her college experience as she volunteered as a student leader and worked closely with the Hillel rabbi on campus. After taking some time off following graduation to visit her family in Puerto Rico, Sofie is excited to share her love for Hillel with students at NYU as a Springboard Innovation Fellow.
Welcome to Hillel!
As first-year students move onto campus and begin exploring their new schools and communities, Hillel staff and student leaders are there to welcome them.
NYU Hillel’s Welcome Week kicked off this past weekend with a brunch that brought together first-year students and their families in the Hillel building. For the next two weeks, Hillel staff will be available to help students move into their dorms, connect with new friends, and chat over coffee. Different types of programs will be available to students depending on their interests. Sofie will run a one-day color war for student athletes that will include team-building exercises as well as classic games like wheelbarrow races and ring toss. She believes that offering space and programming to students with a wide variety of interests and backgrounds is essential to helping first-year students start to feel at home on campus and at Hillel.
At the University of Central Florida, students started arriving on campus in mid-August. UCF Hillel hosted FreshFest, an early move-in opportunity for Jewish students paired with programming and a chance to meet other first-year students before classes began. Twenty first-year students, along with third- and fourth-year student leaders and Hillel staff members had a splash at the nearby Aquatica Water Park. Following two days of getting to know each other, the FreshFest students attended the first Shabbat dinner of the semester with 80 other students from across the university.
Melina reflected that in addition to FreshFest, her favorite part of welcoming new students was driving around campus to pick students up and bring them to the Hillel building for coffee chats, activities, and hang-out time. She’s excited for the energy of this first week to carry through the rest of the year.
Wishes for the New Year:
The first weeks of the new school year often lead right into Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Reflecting on the upcoming academic and Jewish year, Melina and Sofie each have dreams they’re hoping to accomplish with their students.
Melina said, “As students come out of a very isolated experience with the Covid-19 pandemic, we want to make sure there is a warm and welcoming environment waiting for them at Hillel. A big part of that is making sure that each student has a space where they can feel comfortable. As a Jewish Latina, building a space for Jews of color to share their experiences and their voices is so important to me.”
Sofie added, “Creating an affinity space for Jews of color at NYU means that there will be a unique space for every Jewish student to speak up. I’m excited to run a Yom Kippur program about forgiveness and processing emotions around difficult interactions—I’m looking forward to broadening this space for Jewish students of color.”
As sisters, Melina and Sofie are also looking forward to connecting with each other through their Hillel work and to growing strong, vibrant communities at UCF and NYU.