MILWAUKEE — Although no college in Milwaukee has enough Jewish students to make the Hillel International list of heavily Jewish schools, southeastern Wisconsin does have a growing option in Hillel Milwaukee.
Hillel Milwaukee has seen increased student interest, thanks to factors like improved programming, a welcoming environment with free food and a redoubled effort to bring students together from area campuses, according to outgoing Hillel Milwaukee Interim Director Marc Cohen. His last day is Aug. 1, 2016.
“We’ve definitely had an increase in student engagement,” said Laurence Yudkovitch, board president for Hillel Milwaukee.
The strategy has, essentially, been to combine consistent programing with an effort to make the Hillel building, at 3053 N. Stowell Ave., a place to hang out. Hillel Milwaukee started holding Shabbat dinners weekly over the last school year, rather once a month or twice a month as in the past. The consistency helped raise attendance from a handful to typically more than 40 students weekly, Yudkovitch said.
Students come from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette University, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and other schools to form a cross-campus Jewish community, Cohen said. A group will get into a car together and come on over for services, he said.
Other successful programming has included a “De-Stress Fest,” with pizza, chocolate, massages and puppies. Yes, puppies. “We had 100 students here,” Cohen said. “They brought their friends.”
Hillel Milwaukee has also been offering free coffee and free food, drawing students in. Cohen tells students they’re welcome to snacks or Shabbat dinner leftovers in the fridge.
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee students tend to go home if they don’t live on campus and the Hillel Milwaukee hangout can become like a second home, Cohen said.
Grace Fantle Kaplan, the Hillel Milwaukee director of Jewish student life and learning, becomes acting executive director with Cohen’s Aug. 1 departure.
Yudkovitch foresees a bright future for Hillel Milwaukee. A new Israel campus fellow is joining Hillel Milwaukee, Panthers for Israel and Golden Eagles for Israel have been initiated and he wants to bring back programming for graduate students.
Yudkovitch said he wants to encourage student leadership and engagement, adding that “overall our goals are to continue the momentum that we started this past year.”
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How to get involved
Hillel Milwaukee is not just for University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee students. Those from other schools are also welcome. Call (414) 961-2010 or stop by at 3053 N. Stowell Ave., behind the Helen Bader Concert Hall on East Kenwood Boulevard.