Sure, it’s UA Hillel’s mission to help students create a vibrant, diverse, meaningful and empowered Jewish community on campus, but how does that really work? How does our mission come to life? Typically, student-directed ideas surface, and staff helps to curate experiences that meet their needs. A few examples:
• Recently, a student-initiated chorus—the Chai Notes, something totally new to our Hillel! —welcomed over 18 people to vocal placements and have already sounded beautiful at their first two rehearsals.
• Our about-to-launch Wellness Wednesday initiative came out of hearing student feedback that they wanted unstructured time with peers and staff, they wanted to get outside, and their wanted to honor their bodies and spirits.
• Our pop-up Jewish soups giveaway during omicron was in response to our students expressing the need to be cared for. And wow! We gave away hundreds of servings of scratch-made Jewish soups, both matzah ball and a Sephardic red lentil.
• Our Homeland Israel club’s Israeli game night and Israeli arts-and-crafts night are totally student-driven and respond to our community’s deep desire to connect with the culture of Israeli peers.
• The Judaic Team of student leaders thoughtfully designs (and redesigns) our Shabbat services, offering kavanot (intentions) that are relevant to campus life, and melodies that crack open hearts.
• After the events at Colleyville, we responded to student fear and trauma both with a healing circle and with lots of pastoral outreach and care, as well as communication with the administration (the dean of students, the bias team, and more).
• Just before finals in December, we responded to student requests by holding around-the-clock programming on “Dead Day”, feeding them all day, offering them quiet study spaces, and keeping the building open super late. And they really did want it! Our building was bursting to the seams all day and night.
• Because so many students who took the initial Israel Learning Fellowship wanted a deeper dive, Hillel is offering an advanced Israel Learning Fellowship this semester.
• We’re tripling the number of bakes (challah, hamantaschen, etc.) and cooking classes/opportunities this semester (including the chance for students to cook our communal seder) because students told us that cooking and baking are both critical forms of self-care and stress release.
College life is busier than ever, and our students are stretched in more directions than you could possibly imagine. By affording them the opportunity to direct programming with strong staff support, students are enabled to do Jewish. We at Hillel see students in the middle of a metaphorical hourglass. The top of the glass represents their Jewish life as directed by outside forces: parents, schools, camps, etc. The bottom of the hourglass represents the rest of their Jewish lives, directed by their own sense of identity. We get them in the narrow middle, a place of becoming, and we want them to have all the tools, access points, and support possible, so they can fully live as their Jewish selves.