Fresh from Australia, Jake Campbell, 30, is the new assistant director of Hillel at Towson University. Jake was born on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia but made his way down to Sydney when he was three years old. Jake has a half-brother 16 years older than him and a half-sister nine years younger than him, as well as an adopted sister that is 18 years younger than him. He thought it would be crucial to move to the U.S. because he wanted to work for the Jewish community, particularly with Jewish students. His father is not Jewish, while his mother is descended from Holocaust survivors.
What are your first impressions of Baltimore?
It’s been an incredibly welcoming city. I’m constantly meeting people that just want to get to know me in Baltimore. They hear my accent and they want to know my story. It is just such a small town. You know, you meet one person and they’re connected to you in several different ways.
What are your goals for your new job at Towson?
I want to be the glue within the team toward the same type of mission. I want to see this community grow to be something that is fun; that people will look back on [Towson Hillel] as a defining community of their college experience. They’ll think about how incredible their Shabbat experiences were and everything else it had to offer. They’ll be able to become these Jewish student leaders; these emerging leaders could become Jewish leaders of Baltimore in the future.
When did you move to the U.S.?
The first time I moved was June 2015 for Florida State Hillel as the Jewish Student Life Coordinator. Then, April 2016 I moved back to Sydney to be the director of their version of Hillel. Then June 3  I came over to Baltimore.
How did you get your start with Hillel?
I was a resident of Moishe House in Sydney and one of the board members of Moishe House International was coming down because his brother was studying in one of the local universities. One of the people he brought was his mother, who was on the board of Hillel international. We got talking and she asked if I wanted to work for the Jewish community and I said I’d love to work for the Jewish community. She asked “Why don’t you work for Hillel?” I said “Why don’t I?” She told me how to apply, and I applied for 50 different Hillels. Every time a job came, I applied for one. A couple liked me and Florida State ended up being the right place.
What’s it like to live in Australia compared to the U.S.?
In Australia there’s a lot more of a relaxed attitude to everything and to life. When something goes wrong, we say “She’ll be right.” Over in America everyone is a lot more ambitious; they want the whole world – this whole “American Dream.”
Is there a big Jewish community in Australia? What’s that like?
Australia’s got the next largest Jewish community in the world. Depending on what census you believe, it’s about 120,000 Jews. In Sydney, we’ve got somewhere between 40 to 50,000, again based on which census you believe, and it’s the second largest Jewish community in Australia. Think of America as basically half of the Jewish population – it’s pretty sizable by world standards. Here’s a fun fact: Australia has the largest per capita number of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel.
Did you have a Jewish upbringing? What was that like?
No. The answer is a strong no. I grew up in the suburbs of Sutherland Shire which is mostly white and Christian. There are more churches per square kilometer than anywhere else in Sydney. I didn’t have a Jewish friend outside of my family – in fact, I didn’t know anyone Jewish outside of my family – until I started college. One time I knew it was Yom Kippur, [this shows how much of a non-Jewish upbringing on I had] my mom was like, “Hey Jake, it’s Yom Kippur.” I was like “Happy Yom Kippur” and she said “Happy Yom Kippur” and that was that. Overall, my mother’s side is “super super” secular. It wasn’t until the age of 21 that I had a bar mitzvah.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday? Why?
I am going to go for something different: Yom Kippur. I like being out of my comfort zone and it’s a time where you can test the barriers. I prefer the holidays that are more meaningful and you feel like at the end of it you got something out of it.