“Just Jewish,” Baby Plants, and The Cloud – What Mission-Centered Change Looks Like at UArizona Hillel

When I arrived at UArizona Hillel in July, I knew that the students, staff, board, and community were excited to meet me. Part of welcoming any new leader is understanding her vision. But at the same time that folks are excited for change, pace-of-change is a critical consideration and potentially huge pitfall for new leaders.

I’m a bit of a mission wonk, and one of my practices is that when I sit down at work each day and wake up my computer, I type our mission. A little sappy? Maybe, but it’s just one way that I try to put mission at the heart of every change we make, no matter how small, and that helps to pace change appropriately.

A few of the changes that could be made right away, with the support of our hard-working and creative staff, include:

  • Facilitating an enormous donation of in-kind furniture and décor and creating new signage and art for the building that helps to convey the values and mission of Hillel.
  • Introducing Hillel International’s long-running Jewish Learning Fellowship program to our campus for the first time. In our pilot year, nearly 29 students will go through this intensive fellowship, digging into life’s big questions through a Jewish lens, sharing Shabbaton experiences together, and creating lifelong bonds.
  • Expanding our incredible Israel Learning Fellowship to two cohorts, a beginning cohort that focuses on the culture, regions, history, and diversity of Israel and an advanced cohort that’s more focused on geopolitics.
  • Recognizing student mental health needs with wellness programs such as restorative yoga, healing and grief circles, a propagation station where they can adopt plants, and more.
  • Combining our different Shabbat services into one service that is not affiliated with a specific denomination, but serves multi-denominational students, speaks to the majority of our students who think of themselves as “just Jewish,” and is a beautiful, musical experience led 100% by students.
  • Creating from-scratch Friday night siddurim and bentschers (books that contain the prayer after meals) to customize our Shabbat experience.
  • Designing new swag and merchandise that our students are wearing all over campus, including backpacks, shirts, mugs, phone wallets, and stickers for their computers and water bottles. We introduced great new slogans, including “The hottest Hillel” and “It’s a desert, but you don’t have to wander.” Some are exclusive to students, but some can be purchased on-demand, check out our store!
  • Giving our staff regular wellness days, weeks of holiday when the entire staff is off together (so no one gets bogged down by emails) and other benefits that make their lives better.
  • Listening to students who are exhausted from COVID and relentless schedules when they said that they want staff to take more of a hand in programming.

Other changes I needed to be on the ground longer to make. Although I still very much consider myself on a first year “listening tour,” this semester we are poised to make the following changes, among others:

  • Centering on our mission and planning each and every piece of programming or outreach with students at the heart.
  • Shifting our engagement approach from one where we expect students to find their way to us to one where we go where the students are, and shifting from a mindset that the ultimate goal is to create Shabbat or Hillel regulars, to one where each student’s Jewish journey is unique and has no particular outcome.
  • Adopting enterprise software for staff, moving our office from a system of storing files on hard drives to the cloud, and integrating project management, expense tracking, and other critical pieces of software to our practices.
  • Introducing work protocols that will help us continue to professionalize.
  • Taking a pause and deeply examining our student leadership and internship structures and redesigning for efficacy and student impact (I’m excited for our Assistant Director Abbii to share more with you about that process in a future Post-Its article).
  • Introducing half-a-dozen new staff trainings.
  • Reconstituting critical Board committees, intentionally working towards diversifying our board, and critically examining our board onboarding and year-long experiences to make sure our board is enriching for lay leaders, and that they are empowered and excited about meaningfully contributing their time and expertise to UArizona Hillel.

We have big plans for growth, too! Over the next five years we are looking to triple our revenue, double our staff, and—most importantly—reach five times as many students as we do today, helping them build vibrant, diverse, meaningful, and empowered life here on campus. This will mean many more changes ahead, which is exactly how it should be: when an organization is constantly in a healthy learning stance and willing to iterate, it is constantly in flux. We hope to see you soon to share this with you in person, either at our first Shabbat on the Mall on March 18 (free and open to all), or at our dynamic Come Home to Hillel fundraiser on April 3, where we’ll be raising the dollars critical to serve every Jewish student at the University.