Hillel Milwaukee is planning a series of themed Shabbats — including events focused on voting, refugees and pride — among other activities, in an effort to reach students more effectively than ever.
“Hillel has grown in recent years… and we’ve engaged a lot of different students from a lot of different campuses,” Executive Director Rabbi Joshua Herman said. “The goal for this year is to take that engagement to the next level, both in terms of finding more students who we were not engaging, but even more so taking the ones that we are, and really doing even deeper learning with them with even more enriching experiences.”
Herman said Hillel Milwaukee aims to accomplish that goal in various ways. Through Jewish programming events such as themed Shabbats, tikkun olam activities and Israel engagement, in addition to events targeting both Jewish and non-Jewish students, Hillel will be busy expanding their presence on Milwaukee campuses.
Hosting themed Shabbats is an opportunity for Hillel Milwaukee to target specific groups and promote community engagement. Herman said plans for this year include an interfaith Pride event, including a themed Pride Shabbat, to uplift the LGBTQ+ campus community and promote inclusivity and celebrate all identities. Hillel also plans to host a Get Out to Vote Shabbat as a voter registration drive prior to Election Day and a refugee Shabbat where a speaker with first-hand experience details their challenges as a refugee and informs students about how they can make an impact.
Also in development for this year are tikkun olam-focused activities. Hillel Milwaukee is funding four Repair the World interns from four different campuses. These students will receive a stipend and work to create educational and volunteer programs for fellow students in a specific focus area, including food security, climate change and homelessness. They will be tasked with finding local nonprofits to partner with to provide additional volunteer opportunities for students.
As customary for Hillel Milwaukee, students will have the opportunity to travel to Israel for free through the winter Birthright trip, a 10-day expedition to connect Jewish students to Israeli history and culture. The organization will also host two cohorts of six-week learning fellowships through Kol Yisrael, in which students will receive a stipend for learning about aspects of contemporary Israeli politics, culture, art and “everything in between,” according to Herman.
But Hillel Milwaukee aims to involve non-Jewish students in their educational opportunities. One way is through their annual Side by Side fellowship and trip to Israel in May. Open to both Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders from Marquette University, the group will explore Israel and the Palestinian territories, “both to see all sides of what’s going on and to understand a bit of the complexities of what’s happening in Israel,” Herman said.
Hillel Milwaukee also plans to partner with the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation – to develop a Holocaust education program for students of all faiths.
“Given that our goal is to really help create a warm, inclusive and safe environment for Jewish students on campus, we’ve realized that we really can only do that if we also reach out to non-Jewish students,” Herman said.
Herman added that Hillel Milwaukee is actively meeting with administrators across the universities they serve to make it known that Hillel is a resource for all students and a place to turn when issues inevitably arise on campus. He said that while Hillel is primarily designed to service Jewish students, the organization ultimately hopes to engage everyone looking for community.
“Our goal was to provide a warm, welcoming community for our Jewish students, but just by being warm and welcoming to people in general, we’ve discovered that there’s a lot of people who are Jewish or not Jewish who are just looking for community and a place where people care about them and are happy to feed them and take interest in them,” Herman said. “All sorts of students are finding us, which is really lovely.”
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Hillel Milwaukee reports that it is actively meeting with administrators across the universities they serve to make it known that Hillel is a resource for all students and a place to turn when issues inevitably arise on campus.