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Campus Guide ’17: Hillel Foundation offers Jewish take on home away from home for students

Michelle Tomaszkowicz

The Hillel building front entrance, located on Second Street and Mountain Avenue. 

As a university hosting a 10 percent Jewish population, UA offers students many ways to get involved, ask questions and learn about their faith through the Hillel Foundation.

The physical location for the UA Hillel Foundation is the Meyer Agron Center for Jewish Life, located across from the Student Union Memorial Center on Second Street.

“We are focused on creating a space on campus that is Jewish, something that is not always found in America,” said Michael Walden, director of Jewish Student Life. “That means offering holiday meals, offering classes on Judaism, offering any number of the things.”

Holiday meals include Shabbat (the weekly celebration of creation) and High Holy Holidays such as Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year).

The center, usually referred to simply as “Hillel,” is open to all, not just Jewish students.

“Anyone who is curious about Judaism, interested in Jewish values or interested in Jewish perspective can just come in and sit down, talk to people, learn,” Walden said. “We talk to people who are considering converting, we talk to people who have no intention of converting and just want to hang out and chat.”

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Patrons of Hillel like to call their time there “Chillel.” Students have the opportunity to meet and make friends every day.

“Somebody will always make you feel comfortable at Hillel,” said history senior Jessica Grossman. “There’s just kind of this general feeling of someone looking out for you and taking care of you at Hillel.”

In addition to being a place to hang out, Hillel also offers many leadership opportunities. For example, students can participate in the Leibson Engagement Internship, a program geared toward building the UA Jewish community.

“I’ve really come into my own through Hillel,” Grossman said, an LEI intern who led conservative Shabbat services as a freshman. “When I was a freshman I didn’t think that I would really find any leadership opportunities right away, which isn’t really something most freshmen are super concerned with. I just wanted to find my footing.”

One of the biggest events planned and run by interns each year is the Holocaust Vigil. A 24-hour event on the mall that includes Holocaust survivor speakers and readings of victims’ names, the event provides education about what it was like to live in concentration camps.

LEI interns also work with Shabbat interns, CatPAC: Wildcats for Israel interns and Birthright interns, who help plan the Birthright trip.

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Birthright, a free 10-day trip to Israel for Jewish young adults, is offered twice a year over winter and summer breaks. Groups of around 50 students get to meet Israeli Defense Forces soldiers, see the country by traveling to cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and gain a stronger understanding of what it means to be Jewish.

Through Hillel, students also get to go to conventions such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference and J Street in Washington D.C. to learn about American-Israeli politics and other issues.

“We have a place to really go forth on the dialogue around Israel,” Walden said. “No matter where you stand on the spectrum, someone at Hillel has that opinion and that’s kind of cool, too.”

Another one of the biggest events is the Multicultural Shabbat, where students of all religions and beliefs are invited to eat and have conversations about their backgrounds.

A new program this year, the Big/Little program, aims to create bonds between new freshmen and experienced members of Hillel to help guide them through their first year and take advantage of all the opportunities they have. Arielle Devorah, a creative writing and law sophomore, led development of the program.

“I decided to create the Big/Little program because I felt a bit intimidated and isolated at my first Hillel event,” Devorah said. “I don’t want any freshman feeling this way when he [or] she comes to Hillel for his/her first time.”

The only reason Grossman came to Hillel as a freshman was because her mom told her to, so she went in with no expectations.

“But what I really didn’t expect, and what I really gained, was a sense of community,” Grossman said. “When you get to Hillel, you become a part of something, even if you’re not trying to.”

Follow Rocky Baier on Twitter.

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