Kehillah on campus


Hillel International and Maryland Hillel.

Josie Levine (‘20) co-runs the Mitzvote chapter at the University of Maryland Hillel, which promotes voter education.

Sophie Schwartz, Guest Writer

As Shabbat rolls in, a group of friends at the University of Maryland (UMD) Hillel meet up at a friend’s dorm to eat Shabbat dinner and bring in the spirit of the holiday together. Everyone is talking with one another as their bright, wide smiles illuminate the room. 

Many Jewish students worry about being able to maintain a strong Jewish identity in a larger college environment, but Hillel provides them with the space to  maintain a connection. 

Hillel, a foundation for Jewish campus life, helps college students find a Jewish community and maintain their connection to Judaism in college. Through Hillel, students are able to connect with Jewish students all over campus. 

One of many CESJDS alumni who have found a home in their college’s Hillel is Rebecca Weiss (‘20), a very involved member of the Columbia University Hillel. 

“I made most of my Jewish friends through Hillel,” Weiss said. “College can be overwhelming, especially coming from a smaller school like JDS, but having a group of familiar faces or people that you can just see and you’re like, ‘oh, I’ve seen him around Hillel.’ It’s something comforting.”  

Hillel programming varies on the school, however, most hold Friday night services and communal Shabbat dinners. Sometimes, services are split to accommodate a plethora of denominations. 

Alex Garber (‘17), the Engagement Associate at the UMD Hillel, sees Friday night as a valuable social time for students. 

“There’s generally about 30 minutes between services and when dinner starts, in which students just interact and talk,” Garber said. “That’s when a lot of people either meet new people through mutual connections, or they will catch up with people that they haven’t seen in a while. That’s a really good way for them to connect with different Jews on campus.”

Not all students at Hillel find meaning in the High Holidays and weekly religious services, so Hillel offers other opportunities to be involved in the Jewish community. 

 “…We had Tashlich but we also had a reverse Tashlich in which we went and cleaned up a local body of water nearby,” Garber said. “For Yom Kippur, we had services all through [the day] and breakfast and a pre-fast meal, and I believe somewhere around 500 students attended.” 

Hillel also attracts people who were not involved in Judaism before college, so universities make sure to offer programs that are suited for everyone, including those who are new to Judaism.

When JDS students start to meet with their college counselors, they fill out a questionnaire asking them about the significance of Jewish life for them. College Guidance Counselor Sue Rexford believes that if students want a strong Jewish community, she encourages them to join Hillel. 

“It would seem to me that if you’ve spent most of your education time in a Jewish day school, that Jewish life on the college campus would be important to you in some way or another and many students find that Hillel is a great way to have a place to connect,” Rexford said. 

Weiss is one of many students who thinks that joining Hillel has been important to her college experience and her Jewish identity. 

“It’s important to understand what Hillel has to offer you because what I get out of Hillel isn’t what everyone’s going to get out of Hillel,” Weiss said. “I’d also recommend exploring what they have to offer so you can figure out how it will best fit what you need and how you want to build community.”