Innovative Hillel Programs Keep Jewish College Students Connected and Safe

During a time like no other, three Greater Hartford Hillels – part of the world’s largest Jewish campus organization – have tapped into their creative side. As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the traditional college experience, our Federation’s Hillel partner organizations are hard at work promoting vibrant Jewish life on campus. Below, Hillel directors from UConn, University of Hartford, and Trinity College share the innovative ways they’ve adapted to serve their Jewish communities during this challenging moment in history.

UConn Hillel, in partnership with Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity, has been busy making matzo ball soup for the soul – for a good cause! We recently launched a matzo ball soup fundraising initiative, with all proceeds supporting HuskyTHON, UConn's dance marathon (which has gone virtual this year) to benefit Connecticut Children's. Students from Hillel and Sigma Alpha Mu spent two socially distant days preparing the soup. This delicious comfort food will be sold to parents and members of the UConn community.

"It's a great way for students to have a taste of their grandma's favorite soup when away from home, while also raising money for a good cause,” said student Jess Baden, UConn Hillel’s Vice President of Tzedek. – Edina Oestreicher, Executive Director, UConn Hillel

Ask any college student what they love about Hillel and you’ll get a multitude of answers: Jewish community, a sense of belonging, a great social life… and of course, the food! So, what was University of Hartford's Hillel to do when our in-person student engagement model became impossible? We adapted! 

We brought Shabbat dinners to the students, creating a “Shabbat Sha-bag” with challah, grape juice, dorm-safe candles, Israeli candy, and a small gift. We created patio-style seating outside our Hillel Campus Center so students could safely gather, welcome Shabbat, play games, and socialize. And when students craved connection on a deeper level, we launched a pilot of the highly regarded Jewish Learning Fellowship, a 10-week experiential, conversational seminar for those looking to deepen their understanding of Judaism on their own terms. We engaged with residential students as well as those learning remotely at home. By doing so, we were able to provide emotional and spiritual support while combating students’ feelings of disconnect and isolation.

We look forward to expanding our ability to engage with Jewish students, increase our Shabbat and holiday offerings, facilitate life-changing immersive experiences, and build future Jewish leaders. – Lisa Langsner, Director, University of Hartford Hillel

Trinity College Hillel is excited to launch our spring semester with myriad online programming and community building opportunities provided by Hillel International and many other organizations — allowing students to delve deeply into topics of national and international significance. To ensure we’re looking after students’ emotional and spiritual health, we conduct check-ins and hold warm online Shabbat gatherings. Students tell us that sharing the familiar Shabbat tunes and rituals is a mainstay of their week.

In honor of Black History Month, we’ll participate in events with B’Chol Lashon, a San Francisco-based organization promoting global Jewish diversity – including “This Is What Jewish Looks Like,” a series of online conversations with four prominent Black Jews: author Rebecca Walker, filmmaker Avishai Mekonen, Yale Senior Jewish Educator Rabbi Isaama Goldstein-Stoll, and culinary historian and anthropologist Michael Twitty. 

Along with Trinity’s Language and Culture Department, we’re hosting a session with “Streetwise Hebrew” podcast creator Guy Sharett, taking an in-depth look at Hebrew graffiti in Florentin, his Tel Aviv neighborhood. And last but not least, we’re gearing up to creatively and safely mark Purim, Passover, Yom HaShoah, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut. – Lisa Kassow, Hillel Director, Trinity College

Above, from left: Trinity College students safely study and socialize at Zachs Hillel House; UConn Hillel Vice President of Tzedek Jess Baden, Director of Engagement and Programs Jacqui Schulefand, and student Rachel Bluestein make matzo ball soup for a cause; and University of Hartford Hillel students showcase their grab-and-go “Shabbat Sha-bags.” Images courtesy of Hillel.