Jewish Values: Tzedek

On Wednesday, December 2, Ashley Livitz and Micky Wolf organized a fundraiser and book drive for the Mobile Loaves & Fishes Community First Village at Texas Hillel. The Community First Village aims to house nearly 20% of Austin’s homeless population. The students goal was to raise money and collect books to create a library for the community.

The attendees were all invited to eat free food in exchange for 2 books and $5, or a $10 donation. More than 50 students participated and over $400 at the event.

Kudos to all who organized and participated, the Community First Village is changing the way the chronically homeless are supported in Central Texas!

Leadership: Hanukkah Dorm Candle Lighting

On Monday, December 7 and Tuesday, December 8, the Student Executive Cabinet organized two Hanukkah Candle Lighting ceremonies for students living on- and off-campus. Both celebrations included a menorah lighting, free sufganiyot (jelly-donuts), hot chocolate, and invited students to take a break from studying for their final exams.

“This is one of the few times that Hanukkah falls during the school year,” said Graeme Campbell, Student Executive Cabinet member, “So we wanted to celebrate it in a way that everyone could get involved.”

Students living off-campus were invited to a central student housing location west of campus on Monday, December 7th, while students living on campus, most of which who are freshmen, were invited to a location outside of a dorm. The Student Executive Cabinet worked with CEI interns to help co-host the event, so that they could further engage with freshmen students who came to the event. CEI interns encourage students to become more involved with Texas Hillel.

Engagement: First Impressions Internship

Student who are who are interested in engaging visitors have the opportunity to serve as First Impressions Internship, or FII. The Interns set a warm, inviting, and friendly tone for visitors of Texas Hillel. An intern is staffed at the front entrance during Texas Hillel operating hours in order to welcome all visitors, whether they are students, parents, program participants, staff members, or even visitors of the House Cafe coffee shop.

“It’s more than just the front desk position. Our slogan is, ‘You never get a second chance at a first impression.’ We want to make people feel extremely welcome and able to ask any questions,” commented Sam Dier, a sophomore International Relations major from Pasadena, California, who will become an Intern Supervisor in the spring.

Students involved with the FII serve as a knowledgeable Jewish resources for students, in that they are always aware of events happening in the building and serve as a point of contact between visitors and the resource they are searching for. FIIs also give tours of the building as needed. FIIs are one of the first points of contact between a visitor and the Texas Hillel community, and their goal is to make all visitors feel as comfortable and welcome as possible. However, they also serve to welcome visitors during other events, such as Shabbat services.

“FIIs are spread throughout dinner and Shabbat services to be with new people and make them feel more comfortable,” said Sammi Donchin, a sophomore Social Work major from Edmond, Oklahoma. “It’s a really great opportunity for me to feel more comfortable at Texas Hillel, and it makes me happy to know that others are coming and becoming more comfortable, and that we are going through it together.”

Jewish Values: Shabbat (December)

On November 20, was the Launching Longhorns Shabbat at Texas Hillel. Over 100 students attend student-led Shabbat services (reform, conservative or orthodox) each week.  For students who do not wish to attend a traditional service, Texas Hillel offers an alternative social justice discussion. Launching Longhorns invited civil rights lawyer Adam Loewy as a speaker for the November 20th alternative discussion.

On July 26, 2013, Larry Jackson Jr., a 32-year-old-old native of Austin, Texas, was brutally beaten and shot to death by APD Detective Charles Kleinert. Mr. Loewy represents Larry Jackson Jr.’s family in an ongoing civil rights case against Kleinert and the City of Austin. He spoke about his vast legal experience and civil rights work and its connection to his take on Judaism.

Following the discussion, Mr. Loewy and his wife, Phil, stayed to mingle and speak with students during dinner, which was prepared by student volunteers.

Building Relationships Across Campus: Hanukkah-Diwali Dinner

On Thursday, November 19, Texans for Israel hosted a multi-cultural and interfaith dinner in conjunction with Indian Cultural Association, UT Hindu Students Association, and Bhakti Yoga Club. Over 150 students attended the event which aimed to bring the communities together to learn about each other’s traditions and the backgrounds of their respective holidays.

Students from all groups joined together to cook a vegetarian dinner, spin driedels, listen to both Indian and Israeli music, and light sparklers at the end of the event. While the event did not take place during either of the holidays, the goal of the event was to educate all students, regardless of their faith, about the meaning of Hanukkah and Diwali.

To read an article by The Daily Texan about the event, click here.

Leadership: Student Executive Cabinet

November 11, 2015 – The student executive cabinet is the group of 5 student leaders who help oversee Texas Hillel and its 30 student groups. The 2015-2016 executive cabinet members are Keri Bobo (San Antonio), Graeme Campbell (Houston), Michelle Wolf (Dallas), Steven Bassett (Phoenix), and Noa Gadot (Houston).

Each member oversees a special area, including Shabbat, Development, Student Leadership, Community Relations, and Marketing. The cabinet meets weekly to propose new events and allocate budget across each event or program.  They rotate the role of president, so each student has opportunities to develop agendas, lead meetings and build their individual leadership skills.

On November 11, 2015, the student executive cabinet met to discuss a Hanukkah party that they are planning. “This is one of the few times that Hanukkah falls while school is still in session,” said member Graeme, “So we want to have a Hanukkah party that lets students on- and off-campus celebrate together.” The executive cabinet hopes to have a menorah lighting ceremony in West Campus and in one of the most populated dorms on campus.

Jewish Values: Shabbat

October 23, 2015 – Each week, 100 students come to Texas Hillel to participate in its student-led Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Friday night services, as well as an alternative discussion group. Students lead each other through prayer, and after services they eat a meal together that is usually prepared by students as well.

The weekly Shabbat service is organized by Student Executive Cabinet member Noa Gadot. Each week, she chooses a special theme that is particularly relevant to students and appeals to other Jewish values. The theme for this Shabbat was “Share Your Care for Israel,” which encouraged students to discuss their ideas about how they can support Israel.

“The people in Israel have gone through a difficult time,” Noa stated, “So I wanted to make this Shabbat extra meaningful for our family, our friends, and our home country.”

Building the Jewish Future: Madison

November 14, 2015 – Engaging with students during their college years has a profound impact on their Jewish identity. At Texas Hillel, we see evidence of this daily. In a recently published article on The Forward, the authors discuss how college programs that intervene with emerging young adults can make a life-altering impact on their Jewish identity, specifically those that come from interfaith families. Texas Hillel has remarkable evidence of this phenomenon in which students gain a stronger sense of their Jewish identity by participating in various events and programs provided by Hillel.

Madison is a perfect example of how Texas Hillel can help students from different Jewish backgrounds strengthen their Jewish identity. Madison came to UT Austin from California. She had very little exposure to Judaism prior to coming to campus. One day, a non-Jewish friend invited her to a White Rose Society meeting, and from that point she decided to explore other programs offered by Texas Hillel. During her freshman year, she joined a student-led program, Challah for Hunger. After her first semester, she became even more involved with Texas Hillel through her participation in the White Rose Society, Give Kids the World, Launching Longhorns and other events and activities.


Engagement: CEI Internship

November 4, 2015 – Texas Hillel’s Campus Engagement Internship Program is the backbone of our student engagement. The CEI interns are the tentacles into the Jewish student body. These students are required to reach beyond themselves and their circles to find and welcome Jewish students on the periphery of Jewish life. Texas Hillel has recruited and hired 12 student interns who are each responsible for finding and engaging 60 uninvolved students each. 5 of the engagement interns are focused on getting new students involved in social justice and volunteering opportunities within a framework of Jewish responsibility for tikkun olam, to “repair the world.”  The CEI interns engage close to 1000 students throughout the year.

Each week, the CEI interns meet to discuss their most meaningful interactions with “engagees.” On November 4, 2015, the highlight of the discussion was focused on Ashley. Over the weekend, Ashley met a fellow Jewish freshman who was unaffiliated with Texas Hillel and unaware of its activities. Ashley not only successfully encouraged her “engagee” to visit Texas Hillel in the coming week, but more importantly, Ashley invited her to come to Challah for Hunger baking  and they went together! The one-on-one touch makes all the difference to engaging new students and to making everyone feel welcome and a part of Texas Hillel.

When asked to describe her experience as a CEI intern, Ashley said, “As a CEI intern, I have the opportunity to bring in students all over the UT Campus to help better our community. Engaging new students, particularly Jewish students, has allowed me to meet many new, awesome people outside of my typical group of peers. My position at Hillel has helped me find a place in the UT community, and I am grateful that I have the ability to give other students the same experience.”

Promoting a Pro-Israel Campus Environment: Avi Jorisch

November 11, 2015 – On Wednesday, November 11, more than 100 student campus leaders came to Texans for Israel and Unify Texas’s annual UT Student Campus Leadership Dinner.  With the support of Israel Bonds, students heard from Avi Jorisch, a security expert and consultant.   The leadership dinner series encourages leaders from student government and influential campus organizations to learn more about Israel and listen to a pro-Israel perspective on current events in the country. Some groups involved with the dinner included student government representatives, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Campus Engagement Interns (CEI interns), Jewish National Fund campus representatives, and members of the Student Executive Council.

Prior to Mr. Jorisch’s speech, four UT student leaders participated in a student panel conducted by Texans for Israel. In this panel, students spoke about their relationship with Israel and how they serve as activists, both on and off campus, for Israel.

Mr. Jorisch is the founder of the Red Cell Intelligence Group, a consulting and training firm that specializes in national security issues relating to terrorism, illicit finance and radical Islam.  Mr. Jorisch discussed the causes of terror currently taking place in Israel, and encouraged students to be proactive and find ways they can support Israel by taking a stand for causes they care about. “Israel shares our values,” Mr. Jorisch concluded, “If you care about human rights, if you care about women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association, you should support the state of Israel.”