It’s very nostalgic to be back in Tucson,” says Abbii Cook, University of Arizona Hillel Foundation’s new assistant director. “I’m so excited to be back at the place that really shaped me. It’s like a full circle,” she says.
Cook spent a lot of time at Hillel as a UA student from 2003-2007. “Hillel changed my life, especially in my junior and senior years,” she recalls. As a double major in communications and Judaic studies, she says the career that brought her back to Tucson “ended up being the perfect thing.”
Growing up in Overland Park, Kansas, she attended Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy. In her senior year at UA, she became active in Hillel’s Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative internship. CEI then was a peer engagement program focusing on engaging uninvolved Jewish students and meeting them “where they are.” Through the CEI internship, Cook learned to own her own Judaism, says Michelle Blumenberg, UA Hillel director. “These experiences at Hillel were the catalyst for Cook to become a Jewish professional.”
Cook spent a year as a fellow at the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she discovered her passion for program planning and working with Jewish youth. She then spent two years as the senior engagement coordinator at Hofstra Hillel in Hempstead, New York. While there, Cook traveled with students to New Orleans to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, to Israel on Birthright, and to Nicaragua to contribute to building a school.
She spent the next nine years as the youth and teen director at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas. While at the JCC, Cook also was the creator and camp director for its Teen Travel Camp and the JCC Maccabi Games Team Dallas delegation head.
“After nine years at the JCC in Dallas, I had no plans to leave,” she says. Her brother told her about a posting for the UA Hillel position. She immediately contacted Blumenberg and told her she planned to apply. “I knew Michelle as a student. She was my mentor. So things really fell into place.”
Cook, who started her new role last month, looks forward to “bringing energy back to UA Hillel. It’s exciting to be part of the journey for other Jewish youth … to work with young Jewish leaders on the same campus where it changed my life,” she says. She plans to build strong student relationships and recruitment. That involves a lot of outreach — and, she admits, a lot of food.
Back to school events kick off with Shabbat dinners every other Friday, beginning tonight and again Sept. 13. More food will be available at the Labor Day brunch at 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 2. Birthright registration opens Wednesday, Sept. 4, with a root beer float party at 7 p.m., followed by High Rollin’ Bowling at Lucky Strike, 4015 E. Speedway Blvd. A challah take-and-bake will be Thursday, Sept. 5 at 5 p.m. Cook encourages students to bring friends, “whether they are Jewish or not!”
UA Hillel is at 1245 E. 2nd Street. For more information, contact Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org.