Editorials | On Campus | Post-Its

Hillel is Home for UArizona Student

Zach Schawelson

Hey everyone! My name is Zach “Schwally” Schawelson and I have been a Jewish student at the University of Arizona for the past FIVE years! I study engineering and when I’m not stressing about homework, projects, or finals, I spend my time at the Hillel building. During my 5 years here, I have seen and experienced a lot, and I hope you can take a few things away from reading this. This spring (really, in May) is when I bid my farewell, but… we still have a few months until we get there, and I plan to make every moment count. But, since I am on my way out, let me tell you a few things I saw and learned, some advice, and my hopes for the future of Hillel after I leave.

Before I get into all of that, let me tell you about my involvement with Hillel so you can hear some of my qualifications to write this. I got involved with Hillel before I even stepped foot on campus. The summer before I started school (in Fall 2019) I was at summer camp (Camp Stein) when my co-counselor was telling me how he wanted me to start helping out service leading when I got to campus. From that moment on, I just got more and more involved at Hillel. During my second semester and beyond, I joined the engagement intern team, got more involved with the Jew Crew (service planning), took some of the learning fellowships offered, was a student board member, served on student leadership, and have hosted many events.

Over the course of 5 years, Hillel has changed (of course it has, what organization doesn’t change over a 5 year duration?). Just when looking at the staff, I have seen 3 executive directors, 2 assistant directors, 3 building managers, 2 springboard fellows, and 3 Israel fellows. The interior of the building looks different now then when I first arrived in 2019; the way we host events is different; services are different; student leadership is different; campus feels different; and I am different. I have grown and changed as a Jewish person through my time at Hillel; and I like who I am on the other side.

Before coming into Hillel, I spent a lot of time as a camp counselor and working with kids – which is a whole different vibe than working with college students. Hillel helped me get my feet planted in my studies and provided me space and resources to help me through my transition of starting college. In fact, I had a designated “napping corner” at the Hillel building when I needed a nap during my school day. Through my various leadership roles here, I’ve been able to hone in on invaluable skills such as communication, collaboration, and empathy. Through engaging with Jewish traditions, rituals, and “All Kinds of Jewish” within Hillel, I discovered a profound connection to my heritage. The inclusive and supportive experiences at Hillel have not only shaped me as a leader but have also contributed significantly to my personal and spiritual development as a proud Jewish individual and student at the University of Arizona.

As I start to say my farewells around town, I do want to share some of my hopes for the future of Hillel at the University of Arizona. First, I hope that our Hillel continues to grow and evolve. Every year I’ve been here, something has changed, and it always helps our student population, meeting them where they are, offering resources and opportunities when necessary. I hope the students thrive and take advantage of every opportunity that Hillel offers. Every semester, the Hillel event calendar gets more and more full. Each event is an exciting opportunity to make a new friend or connection. Each event has something unique about it that you won’t be able to find elsewhere. Students, take advantage of what Hillel can offer you, before you have to leave. And finally, I hope the staff get some rest. Whether you see it or not, the staff at our Hillel have been working super hard this year to make sure the students feel safe and are okay. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes that students don’t know about, and the staff are always still there for whatever students need. So, thank you to the staff, y’all deserve a rest, and all the recognition in the world. I hope our Hillel will continue to thrive.

I’m slowly making peace with leaving this home away from home. Hillel has become a place where I’ve gotten the chance to grow, learn, and lead in a space where I am comfortable. I will be taking everything I’ve learned here with me as I continue on my journey after I graduate. No matter where I end up, I plan on finding a Jewish community I can call home. I hope to find a place that can allow me to thrive in my community the same way Hillel has helped me these last 5 years.