Last week, I addressed supporters of the Hillel of the College of Staten Island. This is an interesting Hillel, an interesting school, and an interesting part of the city. We have been working with individual Hillels for about 12 years now-even after our three-year project with International Hillel concluded, and Hillels on a local basis continue to reach out to JOI for insight and directions.
Now some will argue, as I often do, that New York City is sui generis. In other words, we can’t apply what we learn in New York to other communities. Yet, Staten Island is not Manhattan, and therefore I think it merits review. I don’t believe it can be classified in the same way as other things in New York. The Jewish community of “the Island” is growing (even if its synagogues are suffering). Some of this growth can be attributed to an influx of those from the FSU (Former Soviet Union). The Staten Island JCC is a model institution that has a quite substantial pre-school. The College of Staten Island is growing; part of the CUNY system, and once a commuter school, it is now opening new residential halls. And the school’s Hillel is serving a growing number of students-with its indefatigable one-person staff, Amy Posner.
I spoke a great deal about the trends in the Jewish community, especially as I see them emerging in the generation of our children, that same generation that is populating college campuses, although my kids are admittedly long past college. I also talked about the program changes that need to be made in Jewish communal institutions if we are to reach that generation. And while the agreement with much of what I had to say, however challenging, was affirming, what I really appreciated was the fact that this small Hillel understood and was directing its program accordingly. Its staff and board members understand that Hillel has to meet the needs of its students, rather than its own projected needs. They also understand that the key to “success” is the tracking of students to greater engagement, one relation at a time.
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