MILWAUKEE – Hillel Milwaukee holds a weekly Shabbat dinner in its building near University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, a dinner for students from several Milwaukee-area colleges.
Anywhere from a few to about a dozen Marquette students will attend, but it’s a chilly wait for the city bus at night, back and forth from Hillel Milwaukee to Marquette. If the goal is to encourage attendance, that bus ride may not be the answer.
So it turns out the answer, initiated in October, is Uber. Hillel Milwaukee is offering free Uber rides to Marquette students headed for Shabbat at Hillel Milwaukee, 3053 N. Stowell Ave.
If you’re not familiar with Uber, it’s a cell phone app that allows users to request a ride, much like calling a taxi. But Uber estimates how long you have until pickup, you can follow where your ride is on a real-time map and your driver had better be nice and helpful, because you’ll be able to rate him.
Uber and other ride-hailing apps have transformed transportation among young people, particularly for those in urban centers like Milwaukee. Don’t feel badly if you’re from the floppy disk generation and you’re not familiar with Uber. According to a May 2016 Pew Research Center study, 28 percent of 18-to-29-year olds have used ride hailing. For Americans over 65, it’s 4 percent.
It was Marquette student Anna Goldstein who suggested that Hillel Milwaukee start the Uber program. She’s a senior and saw a need, “especially because the three of us who do have cars are graduating.” Usually, she’ll text with students to find out who is going and will arrange for some to pile into a car and others to pile into an Uber. They’ll often meet beforehand at the Marquette Center for Jewish Life.
The Center for Jewish Life is a space granted by the university to the Marquette University Jewish Student Union in April 2015. There’s no staff, just students who meet there sometimes, in a comfortable space with chairs, a couch and a few tables. One must sometimes navigate around a coatrack in the hallway to get there, and the sign on the door is an austere, computer-generated sheet of paper: “Center for Jewish Life.” But Goldstein notes the group has come a long way from when the Jewish Student Union was not actively engaging with Hillel Milwaukee and she was the only Marquette student showing up at Hillel Milwaukee events four years ago.
Four young Jewish women gathered at the Center for Jewish Life on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, just before leaving for Milwaukee Hillel’s Shabbat dinner and presentation by Holocaust survivors. They chit-chatted about life on campus, majors, plans after graduation and which of them live near one another.
They said they appreciated the Uber program. “It really shows the Marquette students that they’re welcome there as well,” said Cami Rier, 19, a freshman from Arlington Heights, Illinois. “That’s considerate of them to make sure we have a safe ride.”
Emily Shore, 19, of Rockford, Illinois, said Uber makes it “easier to get to Hillel than taking a bus.”
The bus is an obstacle, said Interim Executive Director Julie Schack of Hillel Milwaukee, who obtained funding for the Uber rides and more from local benefactor Louise Stein. “We want to make it as low barrier as we can.”
“Our staff was spending a lot of time picking up students and bringing them back,” Schack said.
“It’s important that we not let them down when they’re young adults and they’re looking for other young adults to socialize and hang out with,” said Stein, who made a major gift to support Uber rides, food and programming funds for local students. Stein said she wants to perpetuate the work of her husband, Gerald Stein, the local Jewish leader and philanthropist who died in May.
“I see what the Hillel settings can do for kids. The Hillels are very important for them,” she said. “It’s an arena where leadership can be developed. It’s like a stepping stone. It’s really the last one we get before they’re really fully young adults.”