Brandeis Hillel embracing community as fall semester beckons

Hillel student advisory boardPhoto/Seth Winberg

Brandeis Hillel Student Advisory Board

Brandeis Hillel will foster the same sense of community this fall, despite the new reality of social distancing and other public health requirements on campus.

Through a mix of in-person and virtual events and activities, Hillel will create opportunities for students to convene, learn and connect safely. 

“We plan on having virtual events that are inclusive to everyone,” said Aaron Gordon ’22, the president of Shira Chadasha, a student group affiliated with Hillel that maximizes ritual opportunities for women in accordance with Jewish law. “The organizing process is student run, and I think it helps us cultivate leaders in the Jewish community.”

Hillel launched Hillel at Home, which recently featured a Zoom conversation on the intersection of racism and antisemitism and Jewish values and activism. Hundreds of students participated in dozens of other Hillel at Home events over the summer. The platform features online tools for connecting students with mentors, Jewish clubs and organizations on campus, and support resources.

Shira Chadasha organized virtual prayer groups twice a month in the spring, as well as Zoom social events with partner Hillel groups, Friday night Shabbat services, and a hamantash bake. Gordon said there will be a mix of in-person and virtual events in the fall.

Brandeis Orthodox Organization president Kyra Fischer ’22 said she has felt very connected to her friends and mentors in Hillel despite the events of recent months, and is excited to be back on campus, even with added safety measures. 

Throughout the spring and summer, Fischer organized Zoom check-ins with group members and has been speaking regularly with senior chaplain Rabbi Seth Winberg, Hillel executive director and director of spiritual life; and Hillel assistant director Rabbi Stephanie Sanger-Miller.

“Both of them have wished me Shabbat Shalom and have checked in on me, which has felt nice and makes me feel like I’m not just alone at home,” Fischer said. “Brandeis didn’t just drop me. We’re still connected.”

Hillel president Alec Gelman ’22 of Hollywood, Florida said he and his peers have been brainstorming ways to make fall events enriching for students. 

“Hillel has always been about community building and creating a space where Jewish students at Brandeis can feel at home,” he said. “I think that’s essential now more than ever.”

One innovation Shabbat kits Hillel is providing to students who are arriving on campus and need to quarantine. Each kit is certified kosher by Crown K and includes two mini challas, a half-pound of rugelach, marble cake, tealights and grape juice.

In addition, Hillel posted FAQs to its website outlining guidelines for gathering this fall. Winberg said Hillel is ready to adapt to any changes that occur during the semester.

“We have exceptional students at Brandeis, and the thought, care and creativity they’ve put into scenario planning for the fall has been inspiring,” Winberg said. “Even when we’re not in a pandemic, we empower student leaders to take the lead in building the community they want to have.”

Categories: General, Student Life

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