Re-Charging for the School YearWritten on August 11, 2012 from the desk of Rabbi David Komerofsky
Each August since 2010 the Hillel world descends on Washington University in St. Louis for the Hillel Institute. It’s a multi-ring circus that combines the high-level strategy of a professional staff conference with the rich training of student interns and the playfulness of seriousness Jewish educators that refuse to grow up (and who are more than happy to spend their lives on campus).
I co-chaired the first Hillel Institute with Tilly Shames, director of the University of Michigan Hillel and have been an active facilitator and participant for the last two years. This year I got to co-lead sessions with Rabbi Benjamin Berger from Hillel at The Ohio State University and Aaron Kaufman from Penn State Hillel. I also enjoyed leading an evening of raucous entertainment with Jay Lewis from University of Kansas Hillel, because there’s nothing either of us won’t do to bring some levity to our colleagues.
Texas Hillel brought seven professionals to St. Louis, and it’s the best investment in professional development that we’ll make all year. Here are the top six reasons why I left St. Louis inspired:
- Ayala Peer, our Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow, received the prestigious Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award. Ayala is beginning her third year with Texas Hillel and does extraordinary things to bring Israel to the students and the students to Israel. She was in the spotlight at Hillel Institute because she embodies the very best of what open-minded, level-headed and creative Israel engagement can look like.
- Being with hundreds of colleagues from Hillels around the world reminds me that ours is a global network. We work with students whose universe is shrinking – they can and do travel everywhere – and our reach is universal. To hear English, Hebrew, Spanish, Russian, German and a few other languages that I couldn’t quite distinguish (and some all from the same person) is a bold sign that the Jewish future is worldwide in scope.
- Thirteen UT-Austin student interns (including Kayla Sokoloff, whose blog of her summer experience is here) participated in the Hillel Institute. Each is charged with engaging other students to broaden and deepen our impact on campus. It was delightful to see so much burnt orange in the crowd and know that UT-Austin is one of the campuses investing in this kind of work.
- Several UT-Austin alumni are now Hillel professionals on other campuses. It’s rewarding to see them inspiring others in the same way that their lives were enriched here. Go UVA and Stony Brook.
- Two new Hillel professionals in Texas were in St. Louis, along with the Texas Hillel staff and Rabbi Kenny Weiss from Houston Hillel. Rebecca Gerbert from UNT and surrounding schools and Rachel Rustin from San Antonio are now a part of this global enterprise, and are poised to raise the level of Jewish conversations with both of these growing populations.
- Hillel is embarking on a bold strategic plan with aspirational goals for the next five years. We want to engage more students in more meaningful ways than we ever have, and measure our success along the way. Our vision is that every Jewish student will make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. It’s exciting and frightening because it is ambitious and necessary for the Jewish future.
School begins in a few weeks, and with it will come the usual questions about what Texas Hillel has to offer. Of course we have available all of the things that you’d expect of a Hillel at a world-class university. Shabbat, holidays, kosher food, Israel advocacy, etc. We’ve got it covered. But we do so much more. We’re enriching the lives not only of those who find us, but of those we actively seek. It’s energizing, exciting, tiring, enriching, marvelous work. And after a week with colleagues from Austin and everywhere else, I’m ready to jump back in with both feet.
If you’re in Austin, or are a UT-Austin alum or parent, we invite you to be a part of the excitement in 2012-2013.