Just what do the dedicated staff at University of Arizona Hillel do all summer? In some ways, it’s our busiest season. We hate it when the students are away, but we use every moment of the time to prepare for their return. This summer we’re particularly busy, with three new staff members onboarding at the same time that we prep.
The most exciting thing we did this summer was take a full bus of students to Israel, basically the moment classes ended. For the first time in years, Jewish Wildcats prayed together at the Kotel, swam together in the Dead Sea (and the Jordan, and the Mediterranean…), and woke up at the crack of dawn to hike the Snake Trail. Two of our awesome staffers shepherded them through this journey, helping cement relationships that will last a lifetime.
Our Hillel is at a moment of inflection, and we are poised to reexamine every bit of our organization to optimize it for maximum student engagement. We’re so lucky to have been accepted into a design thinking cohort piloted by Tulane Hillel, and now used across Hillel International. Over the next two years, our team will receive invaluable training, support, and peer-based learning to help us rethink every aspect of how we engage students. It’s going to be a ton of work and very worthwhile, and it all kicks off with a gathering this month.
We were also accepted into a cohort with other Hillels in which we will use the OneTable technology to completely overhaul our calendar and event registration system. It might sound a little boring, but making it seamless for students to find and register for events, to host their own events, and to have all that data feed directly back into our database? Priceless. We’re pushing up our glasses, revving up our wifi, and getting through a ton of training in the next few weeks in order to bring the students this new experience at the beginning of the school year (fingers crossed).
In early August, some of our staff will attend a restorative conference with the other western region Hillels, using the time to share best practices, learn from one another, and deepen relationships that in turn will help us troubleshoot throughout the year.
Our budget is super scrappy, so figuring out what we can splash “Arizona” in Hebrew on is no small feat. This year’s hottest items are likely to be trucker hats, stadium bags, and custom travel adaptors for the THREE different trips we’re taking to Israel next year.
We know what we’re doing next May. No, seriously. With an annual calendar packed with Shabbatot, Jewish holidays, learning opportunities, and creative experiences, we have to plan ahead. We’ve filled the calendar with what we know, but when students get back, they will continue to build program and engagement opportunities, until we have something on the calendar nearly every day a week, year-round. And every single opportunity is another chance for them to build their own Jewish identity.
This season our professional development foci are customer service, leading from any level of an organization, project management skills, and professionalization. Our staff will immerse in these topics over the summer and carry the work across the academic year.
Each day we learn the names of new Jewish Wildcats who will arrive to campus in the fall. We immediately reach out to them, letting them—and sometimes their parents—know that we’re here, what we offer, and how much we look forward to meeting them.
Heavy building use during the year is a blessing. We have students who practically live at Hillel, and, at times, programs nearly every night of the week. So we’re sorting the closets, fluffing the pillows, taking inventory, fostering plant cuttings in our propagation station, and fixing what needs to be fixed.
We’re turning our attention to the critical work—which students have expressed over and over truly matters to them—of becoming more sustainable. We’re looking for donors to help us move away from disposable tablecloths, cups, plates, napkins, flatware, and single-use bottles (as we move towards weekly Shabbat meals instead of bi-monthly, that waste really adds up). To do this we need a lot of new supplies, everything from table linens to hampers to a new dishwasher. Already, a generous donor has bought us hundreds of metal kiddush cups so that we don’t have to create kiddush waste each Shabbat. Interested? Check out our Amazon wishlist.
Have you ever been to a breakfast bar at a hotel where they have one of those machines, the kind where you push a button and it griddles up two fresh pancakes for you without mess? Can you even imagine what one of those would do for engagement at Hillel? Fresh, hot, kosher pancakes literally whenever students want them, without a big mess for staff to clean-up? We’ve been researching commercial machines all summer and now we just have to find a donor who wants nothing more than to keep the students full of flapjacks. Maybe that’s…you?