Hillel chapters on college campuses across the country and all over the world provide a home away from home for Jewish students. They host on-campus events, from holiday parties to barbecues, as well as religious services. But when school lets out for the summer, many students leave and activity slows.
As the summer comes to an end, though, these Hillel chapters prepare to welcome students back. They also gear up to recruit incoming freshmen and others who may not have been involved with the organization before.
UMBC Hillel, which serves the University of Maryland, Baltimore County community, is getting ready to start a new slate of programming for the upcoming school year.
“We’re still doing a lot of planning. We have a lot of ideas in mind,” said Aliza Silverman, the Director of Jewish Student Life at UMBC Hillel as well as a former engagement associate. “We’re in a period of transition right now.”
While some Hillel chapters continue to hold activities over the summer, with many promoting Birthright Israel trips, UMBC Hillel typically takes a break during the time of decreased activity. Silverman noted that much of their time is spent researching and reaching out to incoming students, trying to become familiar with them and encourage them to participate in Hillel programs.
But UMBC Hillel, like all other UMBC campus organizations, faces an interesting challenge — they are not allowed to hold official programs until the Involvement Fest, where on-campus student organizations can promote their offerings. But they still organize smaller events, like meeting prospective Hillel members for coffee and tabling at a program focused on religious life on campus.
“It’s a lot of word-of-mouth and people coming in to see what’s up, but we also promote a lot on social media and run ads to see who bites,” Silverman said of how Hillel’s leadership promotes their campus chapter. “And everyone’s always excited about being treated to free Starbucks,” she added.
UMBC Hillel’s student leadership has also started to gather to determine the semester’s slate of programming. Two of the five student leaders are returning members from the previous year’s executive committee.
One thing that UMBC Hillel is allowed to do, despite the limitations on programming for student organizations, is its first Shabbat. UMBC is largely considered a commuter school, so their Hillel chapter does not hold full dinners as many students do not live on campus. But they do hold smaller oneg events.
“We’re also thinking ahead about the High Holidays,” Silverman added. “So many students are local and go home for the High Holidays, especially this year, since Rosh Hashanah is on a weekend.”
UMBC also offers Hillel International’s Jewish Learning Fellowship in the fall. JLF is a 10-week program that sees over 5,000 students participating each year. The curriculum is based on teaching Jewish texts, such as the Torah, to help college students connect with their religion and answer questions they might have about themselves and their identity. Many JLF participants go on to pursue Hillel leadership roles after participating in the fellowship.
Silverman noted that Hillel can be a valuable resource for incoming students. In providing a Jewish community exclusively for college students, it can help them form stronger bonds with each other and develop a more vested interest in their religion and Jewish community involvement. Silverman believes Hillel is something worth considering for any Jewish student.
“It’s a great way to make friends. I’ve met a lot of people who met their roommates and lifelong friends through Hillel,” Silverman said. “When students come to us, they often have not done many Jewish activities outside of what their family does. Hillel is a great space to explore their identity and understand what is important to them as Jewish adults.”