Fostering Inclusion at Hillel

Hillel is an international collegiate leadership program for Jewish students. Hillel engages with and inspires the leadership by creating a diverse Hillel network, that allows students to feel rooted in their Jewish identities. Hillel creates opportunities for Jewish college students to engage in Jewish learning and living, pursue social justice (tikkun olam and tzedek) and connect to their peers and the global Jewish people. By participating in life-changing trips and campus initiatives, students learn to make a meaningful impact on the future of the Jewish people and the world while they grow intellectually, socially, and spiritually. 

Humans of Hillel highlights the identities of Jewish college students. Learn from students about why Hillel is meaningful to their Jewish identities. 

Fostering Inclusion
Bronxville, New York | 2019
“I was diagnosed on the autism spectrum my senior year of high school. Finally, I understood why it felt like everyone had a social rule book except me. This diagnosis brought new challenges to my already complex identity as a Chinese adoptee raised by a Jewish single mom. Now, a senior in college, and a Ruderman Inclusion Ambassador, I’m working to make my Jewish community and campus community more inclusive to students on the autism spectrum and with other disabilities. When Rachel Klein, the executive director of Hillels of Westchester, asked me to take on my first leadership position at Hillel as an ambassador this year, I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to bring the inclusion work I’ve been doing for the past couple years to Hillel and Sarah Lawrence College. It can be difficult for students with disabilities to find their community. My goal is to make our Hillel and campus a welcoming space for everyone.” — Ava Rigelhaupt, Sarah Lawrence College

‘I have no shame’
Salt Lake City, Utah | 2019
“My dad is Jewish, and my mom is Filipino Catholic. Growing up, I felt pressured by my Jewish relatives to only focus on my Judaism and forget about the other parts of my identity. And I didn’t fit in with the Jewish kids in school, who went to temple regularly and spent their summers at Jewish sleep-away camps. I never became involved in Jewish activities because I didn’t think I could. I thought, ‘If my Jewish family members can’t accept my Jewish, Catholic and Filipino identities, how can I expect Jewish strangers to accept me?’ “Becoming active at Hillel for Utah taught me that I could become involved in Jewish life.“At my first Hillel event, my childhood fears came back to me. What if these students know everything about being Jewish, and I know nothing? My extended Jewish family couldn’t even accept me, so how can a group of people I just met? But everyone made me feel comfortable and welcome, so I kept going back to Hillel. I’ve learned about Torah and Jewish culture. I’ve celebrated my first Shabbat and Purim. I’ve even participated in Good Deeds Day, an international day of volunteering, with my Hillel friends by collecting litter and weeding yards at a no-kill shelter in Utah. “Nowadays, I accept my identities and express them in an open and proud way. Hillel helped me do that. I’m going into my sophomore year of college, and I have no shame. I’m proud to be Jewish.”— Ella Abramson, University of Utah

Teaching diversity
Chapel Hill, North Carolina | 2019
“Jewish life centered around the home for me. My family immigrated from India to New York and then moved to North Carolina. We kept kosher and celebrated High Holidays and Shabbat, but we didn’t really feel connected to the larger Jewish community. “When I began studying at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I became a Hillel regular. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Jewish life at UNC Hillel was so different from Jewish life at home. Growing up, I practiced Judaism with older Jewish adults. This was the first time I was surrounded by young Jews — people my age. There were Jewish students from so many backgrounds and cultures. It made me think, ‘Wow, I’m not the only one.’ Because of that, I kept coming back.

“Earlier this semester, Rabbi Melissa, our senior Jewish educator at Hillel, asked me if I would want to plan a Shabbat centered around Indian-Jewish culture. I loved the idea of sharing a part of myself with Hillel. We brainstormed decor, food, customs and services. And my parents helped too. Dinner featured recipes from my family, including my mom’s Indian Kanji chicken, a curry chicken dish I grew up eating on Shabbat. My dad spoke to students about observing kashrut in India. He explained how it was easy for him because everyone eats vegetarian there, but kosher meat is hard to come by because you have to buy it through a synagogue. We also had a group discussion about Indian Jews and the history of our customs and practices. “I think events like this is a powerful way to learn about Jewish diversity. It goes to show that even if we eat different foods or sing different prayer tunes, we’re all still Jewish. We still have things that connect us.” — Liron Benjamin, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Hamentachen and Empanadas
Austin, Texas|2018
“I got involved with Texas Hillel my first year in college through the Latino-Jewish Student Coalition. As a non-Jewish student, I was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming everyone was. Moving away from home for school was difficult, but LJSC became a second family to me. The organization’s focus on bridging the gap between the Jewish community and the Latino community created an open space where we could explore our own identities and learn from others. The relationships we have formed have allowed students to acknowledge the similarities between both groups while also appreciating the cultural differences of each. One of my favorite events we’ve held has been “Hamentashen, Empanadas and Immigration Education,” where we gathered to bake, share our immigration stories and learn what we could do as a community of immigrants to support others going through similar situations.” — Melissa Cossio, The University of Texas at Austin

‘I’m not Jewish?’
New Brunswick, New Jersey | 2018
“I’m from New Jersey. My mom is an Afro-Latina from the island of Hispaniola. My dad is German and Polish. I was raised Jewish, not overly involved but not unaffiliated, and with Jewish values. The turning point for me was a day in spring 2016 toward the end of Birthright Israel registration. I had just been informed that I was ineligible to participate in another Jewish organization’s Birthright trip because they believed that according to Jewish law, I was not Jewish. That was the moment I contacted Hillel. Hillel was tabling for their Birthright Israel trip at the time and I got the number of the Hillel Birthright coordinator. We met that day and she was able to get me on a Rutgers Hillel trip right away. She also made me feel instantly comfortable in Hillel and introduced me to the Reform community educator. As an Afro-Latina and a member of the LGBTQ community, I always struggled to find my place within the Jewish community. With the support of the Reform community educator, I was able to find my place within the Rutgers Hillel Jewish community. My differences have been welcomed and celebrated and I have been given many opportunities to become a Jewish leader on campus. This year, I’m a Hillel Engagement Intern. I spend my time introducing people to Hillel and providing them with the support that the community continues to show me. Hillel has impacted my college experience for the better. I have grown as a person, I became a stronger leader and I found my community. I hope that with my time left I can foster an environment on campus where everyone can feel like they belong at Hillel regardless of how much knowledge or involvement they have with Judaism and Jewish life.” — Fedline A. Saintina, Rutgers University

This is what a Hillel leader looks like
Villanova, Pennsylvania | 2018
“I’m adopted and I’m Chinese. However, no part of me is really attached to that culture. But being Jewish has always been a part of my identity. It’s how I feel most connected to my family of three — my mom, sister and me. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish area, so it’s just always felt right. I chose to become a leader at Hillel to make sure I didn’t forget that part of my identity, continued to spread my Judaism positively and meet new people. I go to a university that’s mostly Catholic and white. I’m neither. I wanted to make sure I had a place where I felt comfortable to be myself. And Hillel gave me a way to do that. I know that I always have Hillel. It’s a place where I share a common bond with others.” — Emma Wasserman, Villanova University

It all started at a pool party
Orlando, Florida | 2018
“I was adopted from China when I was 1-year-old and raised in Florida. I grew up proud of my Jewish heritage and was active in my local Jewish community. That encouraged me to take a trip to Israel when I was in high school. It changed my life, helping me connect to Judaism and Israel in a personal and meaningful way. Two years ago, I enrolled at UCF and was looking to continue my Jewish involvement. Within a few weeks, I attended my first Hillel event — a pool party by the gym on campus — and saw Sam Friedman, who staffed my high school trip to Israel. Sam works as the assistant director of UCF Hillel, and he recognized me immediately. I told him how the trip had a lasting impact on me. That conversation and the people I met that day sparked my interest in becoming a leader at Hillel. I became a photography intern at Hillel during the spring semester of my freshman year and a David Project intern this semester. Hillel has given me opportunities to learn and grow in ways I never thought imaginable.” — Renee Surrey, University of Central Florida

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