Hillels Kick Off 2017-18 With New Programming

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A prior Temple University Fresh Fest group poses in front of the LOVE sculpture. | Photo provided

As the summer winds down, students are loading up their meal plans and preparing to head to college.

And between new staff members and programming, there will be plenty going on at their local Hillels to welcome them.

At Temple University, students will now have the chance to join in weekly Shabbat dinners at no cost.

Previously, one Shabbat dinner each month was free for students. Otherwise, student board president Max Buchdahl noted, it was a meal swipe or $10, which might have deterred participation.

“We’re really excited to have this new opportunity to welcome more students more often into the building and to make Shabbat dinners bigger than they’ve been before,” the senior said.

“We have been really trying to fundraise for that for a really long time,” added Susan Becker, Jewish life director at Temple Hillel. “We’re hoping to get more students engaged that way because what was happening in the past was that our free Shabbats would have great turnouts and our not free Shabbats would have [not so great] turnouts.”

In addition to continuing programs started last year like bagel brunches every other week and their ongoing freshmen orientation program, Fresh Fest, Temple Hillel is also looking forward to the opening of a new kosher cafe under the operation of Aramark.

Becker hopes these developments will entice students.

“The hope every semester is just to engage as many Jewish students on campus as we can,” she said.

Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania will give students the chance to engage deeper with one another and their own Judaism through three new fellowships: the Jewish Learning Fellowship, the Alif Bet Fellowship and Jewish Peer Engagement Network.

Director of Jewish Student Life Ira Blum is excited to begin recruiting for the Alif Bet Fellowship, which, in partnership with Penn’s Greenfield Intercultural Center, will be a peer-to-peer learning experience for students who want to study Hebrew or Arabic and know the other language.

“We’re hoping it’s a cool, casual and social experience for students where they can be more honest about where they come from, their background, their interests,” Blum said, “and then also the fascinating experience of connecting and bridging these two cultures through language.”

He’s also excited to enter the second year of Penn in Poland Fellowship: Jewish Encounters with Memory and Renaissance, in which students can spend their spring break learning about the country’s Holocaust history with an emphasis on becoming immersed in its present Jewish community.

He hopes that the various new programs will allow students to create relationships with one another and feel empowered.

“If those relationships inspire deeper Jewish growth and empowerment and understanding and Jewish self-confidence, that’s the best thing we could hope for,” he said.

Last year was a big one for Hillel at Drexel University as its new home, Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life, opened in the fall. This year, leaders are taking time to expand and deepen existing projects, said Rabbi Isabel de Koninck, executive director and campus rabbi.

However, that doesn’t mean nothing new is going on. A new kosher cafe will open in the center as classes begin, as well as kitchens for student use.

She is also looking forward to broader partnerships with faculty, noting that Paula Marantz Cohen, dean of the Pennoni Honors College, will be offering one of the divrei Torah during Rosh Hashanah services, which fall during Welcome Week.

“We are also acutely aware that we are beginning this year amid heightened concerns about anti-Semitism, racism and political polarization in our country,” de Koninck added. “Though it is a challenging part of our responsibilities, we are preparing to spend significant time helping our students figure out what it means to be living in this moment and helping them determine who they want to be, how they want to act, and how to hold together community — within and beyond the Jewish world — in this deeply fractured moment.”

Outside of city limits, students are gearing up for an exciting year.

At Swarthmore College, the students of Swarthmore Kehilah are looking forward to welcoming a full-time Jewish student adviser.

“Having a rabbi who can be more present on campus opens up new possibilities for weekend events and larger scale holiday festivities,” said sophomore Shira Samuels-Shragg, co-president of Kehilah.

“We also did a great job of engaging new members last year,” co-president Seth Stancroff added. “So it would be great to see that happen again so we can keep growing the numbers of people who regularly attend events.”

Board member Simona Kwass hopes that through new programs — like a monthly bagel brunch — they will  become more of a campus presence.

“Last year, we organized a number of new events and co-sponsored events with other groups that we had never participated in before,” Kwass said. “This year, with an especially strong student board, we hope to continue with the types of events and become a stronger presence on campus.” 

Contact: [email protected]215-832-0740

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