Whatever college students want Madison Hillel to be, Sophie Shapiro is here to make it happen.
The 22-year-old graduate of University of Minnesota took on the job of student life associate at the Jewish campus organization at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
She looks forward to helping students “cultivate their own Jewish identity outside of what they had with their parents. This is my favorite thing in the world, and it’s exciting that I get to now do this full time.”
Shapiro graduated from University of Minnesota this spring and this summer worked at Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River, operated by the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, Whitefish Bay. She attended Nicolet High School in Glendale and became a leader at BBYO-Wisconsin Region.
Shapiro held volunteer leadership positions at Hillel at University of Minnesota. “It was so interesting navigating what that looked like during the pandemic. I got to do a lot of the work that I’m doing right now.”
“It’s really nice to be a bit closer to home, but also have a new adventure in a new city. She added that “it’s fun to transition into this new job, but still have some familiarity.”
Shapiro experienced a sense of Jewish community at a Big Ten University, where she majored in psychology and secondary education and minored in theater. “The smaller Hillel community made it feel more like home. I was given the opportunity to get guidance along the way and have the space to make friends who were looking for the same type of community. It was really just my favorite part of being in college.
“Being able to create that experience for other students is the most meaningful way that I can give back to all the things that I got from being involved with Hillel in college.”
Hillel in Madison is a home for the nearly 5,000 Jewish students on campus.
Shapiro’s job involves a bit of everything. “I work with students on engagement and recruitment, getting people involved. I also plan programs.”
The semester is just beginning and she is trying to figure out what students are “missing from their college experience and from their Jewish journey. I’m here to make sure that any questions get answered, anything they want to see happens and provide the means of getting it done.”
The doors are always open at Hillel, where staff is around to get students acquainted with Jewish life on campus.
Hillel at UW offers a full-service café serving kosher food, a place to study and Shabbat services on Friday nights followed by a free Shabbat dinner for students. “It’s a modern space with lots of study rooms and dining rooms,” Shapiro said.
Her biggest challenge going forward is welcoming back students who have attended college during the pandemic. “We are inching closer towards people who have not had to experience college life in the pandemic, but there are still students affected by it in high school. There’s a little bit of hesitancy because it can be easier to just sit at home or choose not to go somewhere because that’s what we’ve done with our lives for a really long time. It’s so much easier to jump from link to link on Zoom than it is to go from class to class on foot. So I anticipate a little bit of an adjustment period for students as they figure out how to fit extracurriculars into their lifestyle.
“But once that’s done, I definitely see a lot of excitement and longing for community things that people have really been missing out on over the past couple of years.”