Lawrence University has a Hillel? You bet it does. | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Lawrence University has a Hillel? You bet it does.



APPLETON ­– You might think a small, up-north Wisconsin university would have Jews and Jewish resources like the desert has water.

Think again.

Students at Lawrence University here – with 1,500 students attending classes on a quiet, leafy campus sitting at the end of a boulevard of bars, tacos and pizza ­­– have made it happen.

Lawrence Hillel has no executive director or rabbi as many larger Hillels do, but the students who run it hold a weekly Shabbat dinner. About 10 students show up for Shabbat and more than 50 attend the annual Chanukah party.

The lack of staff is a loss, both in expertise and resources. “We were all students,” remembered Ilana Goldman, 22, who was president of Lawrence Hillel before she graduated in 2015.  “Our academics absolutely come first.”

But Goldman, of Ocean, New Jersey, said the lack of staff can also be a gain. If you’ve got an idea, it’s up to you to make it happen and that can be a learning experience. She decided to make Shabbat there more substantive than just a quick candle lighting and from that she learned that planning strong events brings people in.

“Everything is new. There’s no wrong or right way to do it,” she said. “It creates a very close peer community because we rely on each other for support and guidance.”

Your role models are the students who came before you, she said.

“It’s going well,” said current co-president Elana Lambert, 21, of Shorewood. “We have a core group of five students that run the board and are present at every event. We have weekly Shabbat (events) where we get extra people from the university.”

Those extra people are Jewish students and faculty who show up from time to time, along with the non-Jewish curious. Lawrence University President Mark Burstein is Jewish and he attends some events, too, though it’s all student-run.

“I didn’t think it would be as big a part of my life as it has become,” said Lambert, who is entering her senior year and had never before held a Jewish leadership position. “I didn’t expect to do that in college. I just think it’s really cool to be able to help create a Jewish community at Lawrence for the people who want or need it.”

Small Hillels nationwide

Hillel International supports about 100 small Hillels like the one at Lawrence nationwide, with no on-site staff. Small Hillels typically have a faculty advisor and can turn to Hillel International for ideas and assistance. When a student’s grandfather wanted to make a cash donation to buy prayer books for the Lawrence students, for example, Hillel International assisted.

One challenge for small Hillels, said Hillel International’s small Hillel liaison, Dan Rosenberg, is that it’s “not always the case that all students on campus know that they exist.”

Lawrence Hillel has no building of its own and has not even had its own office, but Lambert said she hopes to have access to space and new resources in the next academic year. This is because the university has created a new position, a dean of spiritual and religious life, and the slot will likely be filled this summer, according to Lawrence spokesman Rick Peterson.

As for Goldman, the former Lawrence Hillel president, she’s continuing her Jewish journey beyond Lawrence. She took a job last year as a development associate at Hillel International, in Washington, D.C. In May, she quit. In June, she started cantorial school at Hebrew Union College.


About Lawrence University

  • Lawrence has both a college of liberal arts and a conservatory of music.
  • With no graduate programs, the school focuses on teaching undergraduates.
  • Lawrence students come from 46 states and 42 countries.
  • 27 percent of Lawrence students are in the top 5 percent of their class.