Jenna Heisman, 22, is providing support for her students during the ongoing war in Israel.
Heisman lives in Glen Burnie and commutes every day to Maryland Hillel, which serves the University of Maryland, College Park, where she is a Springboard Social Justice Fellow.
She decided to apply for this fellowship at the advice of her own campus’s Hillel staff.
While in college at Towson University, she knew that she eventually wanted to go to graduate school, but she wanted a breather before starting. So she turned to her favorite organization on campus: Hillel. Heisman had been extremely active in Towson Hillel, even serving as president. The staff there suggested she apply to the Springboard Social Justice Fellowship at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Before going to Towson University, Heisman grew up outside of Philadelphia. In college, she majored in sociology and anthropology with a double minor in psychology and business communications. After completing her fellowship, Heisman hopes to attend either law school or social work school.
What do you do at the University of Maryland?
I am their Springboard Social Justice Fellow. I’m a part of a two-year program for Hillel International where I am doing social justice programming to strengthen our advocacy with different social issues and to gain awareness about issues going on in America and Israel. I also work with seniors, sophomores and prospective students to make sure that, as a community, we’re all taken care of.
How has the environment around campus shifted since the recent events in Israel?
It shifted dramatically. … We had a Barbie in the Sukkah event, and we had a really great time being together as a community, not a care in the world. That was [a few weeks] ago, and now that feels like years ago. Everyone in the community knows someone in Israel, and it’s been hard to see all the raw emotions. We had a therapist that came in for our students. … She explained that this is a unique situation because it’s something that is continuously happening. It’s something that we don’t know what tomorrow or even an hour from now is going to change. The amount of people that have been coming to Hillel and wanting to participate in our events and help is amazing. It really shows the strength of the Jewish community. That’s not limited to University of Maryland, that’s everywhere.
Do you feel like you’re in a unique position where you’re close in age to the students?
I feel like I am a friend or a peer that can get things done in a way that a student can’t. I can connect to what they’re saying, and I can go back to my supervisors. I can go back to the people that I know in my connections from being a staff member and find out how to make the students feel heard. I feel like I am the person who can really get things from a thought to an action. I’m focusing on making that difference.
Is there anything you want to say to our readers during these emotionally challenging times?
I know that there’s a lot of sadness, pain and grief that is going on in the world right now and especially for our people. Taking time to look out for the positives in life and to see the strength of the people around you are important. It’s something that we are telling our students and that I’m telling myself. I think spreading that positivity in times like this is important.
I want to make sure that everyone reading this is taking care of themselves and is doing their best to stay positive in this really hard time.