Congratulations to both Rabbi Josh Feigelson and Aaron Weil for their recent coverage in a JTA article. The article highlights how they have helped Hillel move beyond designing successful outreach programs for students on the periphery of Jewish life – their programs are now attracting students campus-wide. Thanks to the generous support of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, JOI has had the privilege of working with both of these innovative Hillel professionals through a partnership with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
Last November I had the opportunity to travel to Northwestern University to meet with Rabbi Feigelson and the Hillel’s student leadership. After a presentation on outreach methodology for the student leadership and a short tour of campus, I got to see first hand the diverse group of students involved and engaged by Hillel’s “Ask Big Questions” Initiative. This initiative, in which students are encouraged to pose questions to www.AskBigQuestions.com, tries to use Jewish wisdom to answer contemporary challenges. Students from across the religious and cultural spectrum posed questions, and the reactions were discussed during one of the Hillel’s Fireside Chats, featuring a professor who spoke about that week’s headlining “Big Question.”
That’s just one example of Hillel “throwing open it’s doors” to everyone. Hillel chapters are also organizing interfaith programs, and non-Jews now sit on Hillel boards. This reflects what many Hillel directors see as a growing desire by students to make Hillel as culturally diverse as possible. As a JOI program officer and former participant/student leader at my alma mater’s campus Hillel, it’s exciting to read that Hillel International and local campus Hillels are breaking down boundaries and lowering the barriers to all students’ participation in Jewish life on campus. Aaron Weil sums it up nicely, and we at JOI agree:
“The benefit to us,” Weil continued, “is by making ourself a place that is open to all, Jews are going to feel more comfortable to go there because they’re not going to a place that is Jewish only. Jews are looking today, in general, for opportunities to be Jewish but not to be separate.”