Zalik Foundation Invests in Innovative Hillel Programs to Support Mental Health and Wellbeing of Jewish Students



January 31, 2023

MEDIA CONTACT: West End Strategy Team
[email protected], (202) 412-4270

$1.8 million grant enables Hillel movement to embed skilled professionals across 32 campuses, providing critical services to students.

WASHINGTON — Since the start of the pandemic, the already considerable mental health crisis among college students has only grown, exacerbating existing challenges such as limited capacity at university counseling services. As the largest and most inclusive Jewish campus community in the world, Hillel International has responded by investing in the capacity of Hillels to address the mental health and wellness needs of the Jewish students Hillels serve, by training staff and student leaders, offering student wellness program grants, and supporting embedded mental health and wellness professionals at 14 campus Hillels. Today, as a result of a new $1.8 million investment from the Zalik Foundation, Hillel International will be expanding the number of campus Hillels hosting embedded mental health and wellness professionals to a total of 32 campuses by 2025, and pursuing other innovative approaches to supporting student wellness

“For years, students have been coming to Hillel staff for mental health and wellness support, and students’ needs have increased dramatically in recent years. Before the pandemic, three campus Hillels had invested in staffing to address this need, and over the last couple of years, we’ve learned from those initial successes and expanded this work,” said Leah Moz, Senior Director of Student and Staff Wellbeing at Hillel International. “Across the Hillel movement, we launched new professional training so our staff can skillfully respond to students’ needs by connecting them with licensed therapists when needed. We’ve also seen 11 additional Hillels add embedded mental health and wellness professionals. We are thrilled to now scale these investments to more campuses to ensure more Hillels are able to provide access to the support that Jewish students need.” 

Hillel’s wellness program supplements university mental health services, which are typically set up for emergency intervention rather than ongoing care. Additionally, research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that people who receive culturally responsive care have better mental health outcomes. As the rise in antisemitism adds to the existing mental health concerns of Jewish students, access to mental health and wellness professionals with an understanding of their specific backgrounds and challenges is critical for their wellbeing. Hillel International’s training programs teach Hillel professionals to engage students in Jewish practices and customs in ways that foster students’ sense of connection, belonging and purpose, acting as a protective buffer to reduce the impact of negative experiences and help students actively promote their own wellbeing.

Local funders have invested in the early stages of this work, enabling 14 Hillels to pilot various models of embedded mental health and wellness professionals across the country. In New York, the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF) invested in UJA-Federation to enable all five CUNY Hillels to launch this work in partnership with local Jewish social service agencies, and conduct research to learn from these pilots. These early investments have provided critical resources and important learnings, positioning Hillel International to effectively scale this work with this new movement-wide $1.8 million grant.

“Hillel’s innovative approach to supporting Jewish life on campus and Jewish students in a holistic way is now improving students’ mental health and wellbeing, while simultaneously meaningfully engaging them with Jewish community. We are proud to support scaling the number of embedded mental health professionals in Hillels to more campuses, and we hope other philanthropists concerned about this issue will join this effort,” said Helen and David Zalik.

Hillel envisions that this model will develop into a regular part of its campus offerings: integrating professional support and empowering students to promote their mental wellness and that of their peers. One Jewish student described their experience this way, “Hillel is already a place that feels like home for myself and many other students, and to be able to visit with a counselor in the building made me feel comfortable and at ease. I didn’t initially think that seeing a therapist with a Jewish background would make any difference to me, but it really did. Many of the things I discussed related to my family and my world view, two things that are inherently influenced by my own Jewish background. I felt deeply understood and was able to build a strong foundation with my therapist. Techniques we went over are tools that I still take forward with me today when approaching new problems, and this is something I am incredibly grateful for. I feel very lucky that our Hillel at UW (University of Washington) provides such great resources for students, including a setting to meet with a therapist that is beyond welcoming and helpful.”

“At Hillel, we are proud to be innovators in the way we welcome, support, and inspire this new generation of Jewish students,” said Hillel International President and CEO Adam Lehman. “We’re committed to enhancing their overall well being, and we’ve seen a growing need for culturally responsive support for their mental health. We are grateful that the Zalik Foundation is giving Hillel the resources to expand student access to the supports they need, all within a Jewish context. We hope that other funders follow the lead of the Zalik Foundation in recognizing the critical difference that this support is making in the lives of Jewish students.” 

The program also offers a scalable model to other campus organizations. “We are making an impact in the Jewish community and beyond,” said Rabbi Jessica Kirschner of Hillel at Stanford, which has a full-time wellness professional on staff. “Campus leaders from other faith traditions are coming to us for advice and collaboration.” 

To learn more about Hillel’s wellness initiatives, please contact West End Strategy Team at [email protected]

About Hillel International

Founded in 1923, Hillel has been enriching the lives of Jewish students for 100 years. Today, Hillel International is a global organization that welcomes students of all backgrounds and fosters an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. Hillel is dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. As the largest and most inclusive Jewish student organization in the world, Hillel builds connections with emerging adults at more than 850 colleges and universities, and inspires them to direct their own path. During their formative college years, students are challenged to explore, experience, and create vibrant Jewish lives.