Since I have worked in my current position, included in which is serving as the rabbi for Long Beach Hillel, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life holds an annual [inter]national staff conference in St. Louis, known as Hillel Institute, at the beautiful campus of Washington University either at the end of July or the beginning of August. It’s an excellent opportunity to connect with colleagues; learn new techniques, skills or ideas; and to regroup for the new academic year. In addition to this professional development opportunity, the West Coast Hillel staffs have an additional professional development opportunity in the middle of the academic year. The West Coast Hillel Staff Conference, known as the “Western Hillel Organization” (WHO, for short), has been held in the middle of December, usually during finals week (of the semester schools and the week following finals week for the quarter schools) at the very welcoming Brandeis-Bardin Campus of AJU, just north of LA.
WHO is not only significantly less expensive (about a quarter of the registration fee), but is also much closer than St. Louis, so many Hillel staffs can simply drive there rather than needing to fly there (which, in the last few years, has become more expensive). Moreover, since it’s just the West Coast Hillel staffs, it’s a more intimate atmosphere, more laid-back, and there are greater opportunities for discussing geographically-relevant matters (e.g. a couple of years ago, the staff members of the Hillels who work with campuses of the California State University got together to discuss how the process was for getting the study abroad to Haifa University to be reinstated was going and what we could do (eventually, it did)). In addition to seeing how geographically-proximate Hillels can work together (e.g. a few years back, some of us got to spend some of our time there working on an upcoming student leadership gathering), it also has offered intimate settings to have break-out sessions to learn skills, share best practices, and to get a better sense of what possibilities lie out there in our work.
Having attended WHO for the past three years, I have enjoyed the atmosphere, collegiality, and more. WHO has been chaired every year by two directors who put together the schedule, promote WHO, and serve as the MCs for the conference. Toward the end of last year’s WHO, however, the powers that be selected my wife, Rachel, who is the director of Long Beach Hillel, as well as me to serve as the co-chairs (and we accepted) along with Alison Levine of USC Hillel to serve as our assistant co-chair. So, this year, the three of us have met up several times (and will continue to meet up (for instance, we have a meeting today)) this year and to put it together for December. We also held a breakfast meeting at Hillel Institute for West Coast Hillel staffs to update them on how WHO is looking for this year as well as to put it on their radar. We are all looking greatly forward to this year’s WHO and making it great!