The words “egalitarian” and “pluralistic” don’t mean much to most of the students we see at UArizona Hillel, but the concepts are at the heart of our mission: to help students build a vibrant, diverse, meaningful, and empowered Jewish community on campus. How do you create a truly egalitarian and pluralistic community? Is it possible to be everything to everybody (spoiler alert, no) or should we risk alienating some in order to be a lot of things to a lot of people? These are questions we grapple with day after day. Here are a few of the ways Hillel is creating dynamic and varied access points for students:
Wildcat Jewish Leaders – We reimagined creaky old student leadership models to create a cohort-based experience that provides students with professional development, lets them apply for micro-grants to fund their own ideas, and–in truly democratic fashion–lets any student become a leader (without putting pressure on any student to lead if they don’t want to).
Sabino Canyon Havdalah – Last year we heard again and again from students that they wanted to explore Tucson (and especially the mountains!), so this year for Welcome Week we bought most of the tickets on the Sabino Canyon moonlight tram, and we’ll make Havdalah in Santa Catalinas after the first week of classes.
Community Shabbat with the JCC – We are proud to join with the JCC and local congregations to get our students into the beating heart of Jewish Tucson and expose them to different styles of prayer and ritual. Multi-generational experiences are worth their weight in gold.
New Shabbat Tunes and Experiences – Sometimes we get complaints from students who never went to camp that the “camp kids” are cliquey and only sing their own tunes…it’s alienating for large swaths of students. On the other hand, the “camp kids” want to have their tunes and their nostalgic Jewish experience. By introducing—slowly and intentionally—tunes that are new to everyone (and taking time to teach them), we can create a common experience. We are also looking to use more niggunim (wordless melodies) to create musical access points for the widest variety of students. We are also piloting Saturday morning Shabbat Labs, wellness experiences that incorporate Torah, meditation, and traditional Jewish foods.
Becoming Less Transactional – Because Hillel carefully tracks data, we often put the cart before the horse and treat engagement with students as transactional: we want all their contact info and we want them to come to a program. We have to radically shift our mindset to consider what we can provide to the students. We are experimenting with tabling this year. Instead of setting up a table on campus in order to get something from the students, we will be hosting hydration stations (mix your own Gatorade flavor!), massive propagation stations (to adopt plants), a pop-up poetry experience (to give them the chance to create art outside of an evaluative setting), and much more in order to provide them with an experience.
Getting Out of the Building (on campus) – We continue to focus on literally going where the students are, whether that’s the dorms, the Mall, or coffee shops. More than that, we’re empowering students to create programming in those spaces.
Getting Out of the Building (into the wide world) – With field trips like apple picking, a Gaslight Theatre night, a Shabbaton at Disneyland, and maybe a camping trip, we are using Jewish values to frame expeditions into the wide world. For some students, this is a vital access point.
Doubling our Jewish and Israel Learning Fellowships – With three new curricula coming to our campus this year, there is truly something for (almost) everyone. Whether they are interested in exploring life’s big questions through Jewish thought, diving into Israeli discourse and geopolitics, examining the idea of justice throughout Jewish history and in their lives, or immersive Israeli culture learning, there are many paths for study.
Torah by the Students and for the Students – Last year students requested more drashing (Torah sermons), what a blessing, right? So our incredible Jew Crew of student leaders will set up an opt-in plan so that any student can pick a week to teach a little Torah to the kahal (community) during Shabbat services.
It’s a tall order, but with both our mission and Jewish values and ancient sacred text at the heart of everything we do, we have tons of guidance. It’s critical to create varied access points: what appeals to one student doesn’t appeal to another, and we consider it a success each time a student engages with Judaism. If you haven’t seen what we’ve been up to lately, isn’t it time to stop by and see what the next generation of Jewish leaders are getting up to?