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September 13, 2012 - Image 46

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-09-13

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University of Michigan Hillel

student leaders at the Hillel Institute

at Washington University in St. Louis

Programming for and by students not so involved in Hillel.

Neil Rubin


St. Louis


eet 22-year-old Jeremy
Moskowitz, the poster child for
what Hillel hopes will be a revo-
lution in campus Jewish life. The catch: He
didn't spend much time at Hillel during his
four years at Duke University.
Moskowitz attended Jewish day school
before college, but chose Duke in part
because it was "less Jewish:' Once on cam-
pus, he stayed away from Hillel except for a
few Shabbat dinners, instead throwing him-
self into Greek life as a leader of the AEPi
chapter there.
But a Hillel staffer challenged him to
reach out to students uninvolved or little
involved in Jewish life. By his senior year he
had agreed to serve as a Hillel Peer Network
engagement intern, a key role in the inter-
national campus organization's thrust to use
students not very involved in Hillel to reach
other students not very involved with Hillel
— with programs having little if any overt
connection to Hillel.
In Moskowitz's case, this meant build-
ing his own 12-by-12 sukkah and inviting
28 people over for a meal, and hosting a
Passover seder for 73 fellow students —
Jews and non-Jews — in his backyard, not
to mention cooking 80 or so matzah balls
and creating his own Hagaddah that includ-
ed photos, jokes, traditional prayers and
Mad Libs (Hillel provided kosher chicken
and seder plates).
"A friend called her mom after and said,
`You'll never guess where I just was. I was
at a Passover seder," Moskowitz says with a
grin while taking a break from last month's
Hillel Institute at Washington University
with about 1,000 Hillel professionals, stu-
dent leaders and guests.
For Moskowitz, the conference was the
start of a post-graduation yearlong stint as
the Bronfman fellow at Hillel's Schusterman
International Center, the operation's head-
quarters in Washington, where he will serve
as an assistant to Hillel President & CEO
Wayne Firestone, learning the ins and outs
of running a high-profile international
organization based in the nation's capital.
For the wider Hillel movement, the gath-
ering in St. Louis served as a rollout venue
for a new five-year strategic plan that the
organization's board approved in May. The


September 13 • 2012

plan, pushed by Firestone, looks to build
on the work of Moskowitz and the other
1,200 peer outreach interns on 118 cam-
puses — and moves further away from the
traditional model of focusing primarily on
improving programming inside the walls
of campus Hillels for the most Jewishly
engaged students.
It comes with an ambitious mandate: The
800-plus Hillel professionals active to vary-
ing degrees on more than 500 campuses
are now supposed to "engage" 70 percent of
identified campus Jewish students, having
"meaningful" interactions with 40 percent
of them and turn 20 percent of them into
Jewish leaders.
"Jews are leaders all over campus, but we
had to come back to teach them about what
it means to be Jewish," says the low-key
Firestone, who can rattle off statistics one
moment while retelling stories of a student's
profound shift in Jewish identity the next.
Speaking of students like Moskowitz,
Firestone adds, "When we get them to talk
about and understand what it means to be
Jewish, we have a force multiplier. We think
about them as `prosumers: not just people
we are servicing but people who are build-
ing communities."

Engagement Mantra
The goal is being implemented by retrain-
ing staff, putting senior Jewish educators
on some key campuses, putting Israeli
shlichim, or envoys, on others and inject-
ing a mantra of engagement into all things
Hillel. Costs for the effort remain elusive,
and privately some staffers worry about the
new thrust sapping resources from exist-
ing programs as well as how their results
will be measured. Nonetheless, it is taking
root and Hillel has reams of statistics, stud-
ies and plans that it says shows the push is
Launched last year on 13 campuses, the
initiative has involved 72 fellows building
relationships with 3,574 students, according
to Hillel.
The engagement agenda began in earnest
in 2008 when the Jim Joseph Foundation
gave Hillel $10.7 million that was used
in part to create 10 senior Jewish educa-
tor positions on various campuses. They
set to work with 12 campus entrepreneur
interns — students whose goal was to speak
one on one with their peers about where
they might fit into Jewish life offerings on

By Hillel's calculations, those educators
and interns took part in a combined 746
personal encounters with students in one
year. About a third of the students said they
never or rarely went to the Hillel building.
"The No. 1 reason students told us they
didn't participate in Hillel was that they
didn't know anyone there or didn't think
they'd like the people there said Graham
Hoffman, Hillel's associate vice president of
strategy. "By cultivating relationships with
these people we can overcome the
To figure out how to push forward with
its new vision, Hillel hired the Monitor

Institute, the consulting firm that helped
Teach for America plot a blueprint for
achieving its goals. Even with a well-
researched plan, implementation will not be
easy — it requires recruiting, training and
retaining staff, says Scott Brown, a Hillel
executive vice president.
"We need more investors and resources
to do this:' Brown said. "If it's about rela-
tionships and strategies, you need more
hands on deck to do all this at a higher
Hillel directors who buy into the con-
cept say the bottom line remains making
students comfortable enough to talk about
their emerging identities as young adults.
"The heart and soul is the relation-
ships': said Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg of
Northwestern University's Hillel. "People
who previously had no reason to care about
Judaism or thinking it didn't have anything
for them, once they began to trust me or
my interns, their willingness to be open to a
new experience was extraordinary."

Look Beyond The Numbers To The Students

Tilly R. Shames
Special to the Jewish News


s a thriving Hillel, we at
University of Michigan Hillel
often get asked to provide
examples of our best practices or to
send our marketing materials to others
for ideas. We're always happy to sup-
port our field and share our success, but
the answer doesn't lie in our calendar of
events or glossy paper.
Yes, we run dozens of
programs weekly that
reach out to thousands
of students on campus.
But the secret to our
success doesn't lie in
our programming; far
from it, in fact. One les-
son we've learned that
Tilly Shames
has made us successful:
It's not about the program.
The program is the vehicle through
which we do everything else that mat-
ters. We believe in building strong com-
munities, nurturing student leadership,
enhancing campus culture, embodying
Jewish values and engaging students in
Jewish life. And we are able to do all of
this by valuing the individual and our
community over the program.
Our Hillel believes in our students,
their stories and their potential to drive
the American Jewish community forward.
When our staff team sat together at Hillel
Institute in St. Louis recently to plan for
2012-13, we looked more deeply into what
the 70-40-20 model of engagement would
mean for our Hillel. We know that it is not
about the numbers but rather about the

experience of each of those individuals.
The goals are to reach at least 70 percent
of our Jewish students, whose names we
know, whose stories we are learning, and
who access Hillel and all that we offer occa-
sionally; then to help grow the 40 percent
who are exploring ways to integrate Jewish
life and community into their time on
campus by attending programs, going on a
Taglit-Birthright Israel experience with our
Hillel or volunteering in our community;
and then to support the 20 percent, who
have chosen to be our partners in leading
the Jewish community on campus forward,
or who invest deeply in their learning and
involvement in the Jewish community.
The 70-40-20 model reminds us of the
breadth of our community and of the
importance of looking beyond the core of
those who access Hillel and Jewish life on
campus regularly. And it reminds us of the
depth of learning and leadership develop-
ment that allows us to build the capacity
among our core students to drive program-
ming and Jewish experiences forward on
In all of this, our students are our part-
ners. We, as the professional staff, cannot
grow our community alone. Whether in
producing programming or engaging stu-
dents on the periphery of Jewish life, we
know that by building our students up for
success, we will be a stronger community
as a whole. So rather than focus on the
programs, we focus on the students, their
growth, their leadership, and their owner-
ship and authorship of their Jewish expe-
riences. That is the key to our success.

Tilly Shames is executive director of

University of Michigan Hillel in Ann Arbor.

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