Dilli Kittner attends Mount Mary University, an all-girls private Catholic school with fewer than 640 undergraduate students. She joined Hillel Milwaukee last semester and is now the organization’s social justice chair.
“I know one or two other Jews at my school, so it’s not really a big community,” she said. But at Hillel Milwaukee, which is about a 25-minute drive from her campus, she enjoys collaborating with other Jewish students and considers the students there her found community.
Hillel Milwaukee has launched a Jewish Student Leader Caucus to connect students from schools like Mount Mary University to Jewish opportunities and leadership resources. The program is sponsored by an anonymous donor in the community and the Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust.
Hillel Milwaukee is located near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, though it also serves 11 other local campuses with smaller Jewish student populations. The organization has a student board with six students and has created this caucus to get more students involved.
“We wanted to make Hillel the convening place for all of Jewish student life, whether students are involved with Chabad, AEPi, Challah for Hunger, and more. We also wanted to have more representation from the different schools we serve,” Assistant Director Anna Goldstein Koenig said.
The Caucus was formed in January 2021 by Outreach Chair Matty Powell. She is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has been active in Hillel Milwaukee throughout her time there.
”My goal is to connect Jewish student leaders to resources that they might not have known were available to them,” Powell said.
The Caucus met for the first time in April 2021 and recently met for the third time at the end of January 2022. The group consists of around 30 students from all 12 campuses that Hillel Milwaukee serves.
The group met with a Jewish leadership expert at Tiny Windows Consulting at the latest meeting. “We learned how we can network with each other, and there was a lot of confidence building, owning what makes us great and learning how to lend our skills to others,” Powell said.
The programming also aimed to foster a greater sense of independence among leaders and to build stronger advocates for the Jewish community on campus. Not only does the Caucus provide resources for the leaders, but fellow students also aim to help each other.
Goldstein Koenig pointed to one example. Students from some universities, like the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, needed help with requesting days off for the High Holy Days. Students who attend schools with provisions in their student handbook for requesting religious accommodation were able to help those students. At the meeting, they shared the proper language to use when requesting and helped their fellow students learn how to advocate for themselves.
“I think that peer-to-peer support is so empowering because it’s students helping advocate for other students on their campuses, so that Jewish students feel seen, and heard, and that they’re included,” Goldstein Koenig said.
Leaders of the Caucus are dedicated to holding more leadership development programs in the future.
“We are small but mighty, so we want to use our resources to the best of our ability,” Goldstein Koenig said. They hope to put together a weekend retreat next semester for students to further explore their leadership potential and foster Jewish community among all members.