MSLYs Hillel Invigorated
First of two parts
vi Davidoff credits his involvement via Jewish
activities, activism and advocacy at Michigan State
University with deepening his Jewish identity and
making it matter.
As a budding Jewish leader on cam-
pus, Davidoff, 20, a junior, has spoken
out for Zionism through Spartans
for Israel and through the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee. He
has been to Israel as part of two Jewish
Federation of Metropolitan Detroit
missions. And he was the first Jewish
Student Union representative to MSU's
student governing board.
Perhaps Davidoff's Jewish soul has
been most inspired by MSU Hillel,
known as the Lester J. Morris Jewish
Student Center. That home away from home has helped make
a sprawling campus smaller and more heimish. Of MSU's
45,000 students, about 3,000, or less than 1 percent, are
Begun 68 years ago, MSU Hillel strives to touch students
who otherwise have limited Jewish connection.
"When students become involved in Hillel and Jewish
activities at school;' said Davidoff, co-president of the Jewish
Student Union, "they forge a bond and a reason to stay con-
nected with their Jewish community."
He added, "The Jewish community is stronger
because of places like MSU Hillel, which gives us,
as students, a community center to gather while
away at school."
Davidoff, who graduated from the religious
school at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township,
is majoring in international relations in MSU's
James Madison College.
I don't think Executive Director Cindy Hughey was exagger-
ating at the April fundraising dinner when she characterized
MSU Hillel as an opportunity to enrich "the lives of Jewish
undergraduate and graduate students so that they, in turn,
may enrich the Jewish community and the world." By stress-
ing programming, leadership and causes, Hillel is counting on
students to respond and ultimately contribute toward a more
vibrant Jewish future.
It's a plus that Hillel as a national organization aims for
a pluralistic, welcoming and inclusive environment rich in
Jewish values. The challenge lies in broader student participa-
tion and making Hillel the place to be for unaffiliated, under-
involved or uninvolved Jews.
MSU has more Michigan-bred Jewish students than even
the University of Michigan; many of the nearly 8,000 Jewish
students in Ann Arbor come from out-of-state. So it came
as no surprise to hear Hughey announce that MSU Hillel's
$1-million endowment campaign has almost $350,000 in
gifts and pledges after just two years — not bad in tough eco-
nomic times. Hillel's annual operating budget is $685,000, so
cash flow is important.
Hillel isn't the only ingredient to a dynamic Jewish life on a
residential campus like MSU. Jewish fraternities and sorori-
ties are part of the mix. Of growing importance is the Jewish
studies program and Judaic studies as a major and minor,
all of which MSU proudly offers. Clearly, having a committed
general Jewish community is important, too. The
Jewish community in the Lansing area is small
Wayne Firestone, president of the Washington-
based Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus
Life, talks about MSU Hillel "helping students
infuse their lives with Jewish meaning" through
diverse programs ranging from the Matzah-
Ballers Basketball Tournament to "Sushi and
If you want Jewish ambiance, other campus
Davidoff is right when he says the future of the
choices come more readily to mind. But MSU
Jewish community is in the hands of today's
Hillel has come a long way since the dark days of
young adults. Hillel helps students feel more
1995, when attendance plummeted to an all-time
Jewish not only by offering a place to study, hang
low and fire damage kept students from using the
out and mingle, but also by coordinating programs like
Birthright Israel, free weekly Shabbat dinners and intramural
Opening of the Morris Center in 2002 marked a renaissance
sports. MSU Hillel organized 200 programs this school year.
of Jewish life on campus. But while there has been a rebirth
The constant churn in student interests, however, means not
of Jewish culture at MSU thanks to Hillel in tandem with the
alumni-supported Jewish studies program, Cindy Hughey
Shabbat dinners can attract 150 kids, punctuating the
and her student and lay leaders can't rest on their laurels. The
ruach, the spirit, of the Jewish student community. The din-
onslaught of assimilation, acculturation and apathy continues
ners are great, but they are only a start given the hundreds of
to test the spiritual will of Jewish college students. By exten-
Jewish students who could take part.
sion, MSU Hillel will lose ground if it stops developing new
Davidoff was one of the student speakers at MSU Hillel's
programs and better outreach for even an instant. I I
"Inspiring Future Jewish Leaders" benefit dinner on April 16
at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield. The din- Next: Hillel of Metro Detroit and its new president, Gary Snyder
ner honored his parents, Margie Dunn and Mark Davidoff of
West Bloomfield, both staunch Hillel advocates.
O : Can a strong campus Hillel spur Jewish
Today, 85 percent of Jewish children enjoy a higher educa-
tion experience. More young Jews attend college than a Jewish
camp or Hebrew school. So campuses are a key to engaging
Can the larger Jewish community enrich
Jews during their formative years as young adults. Hillel is a
campus Jewish life?
key to that engagement.
271 WEST MAPLE
May 3 s 2007