Sukkot with Beach Hillel

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With students in front of Beach Hillel’s on-campus sukkah at CSULB, having finished putting it up

As in years past, I spent many activities with Long Beach Hillel for the holiday of Sukkot, enriching its programs and its students.  Beginning with leading a Beach Hillel staff learning session on Sukkot, it continued with putting up both the off-campus and the on-campus sukkot (and picking up the four aboreal elements).  It continued with MC’ing Beach Hillel’s Shabbat dinner in Beach Hillel’s off-campus sukkah.

Lulav & esrog in Sukkah for staff meeting, in which I explained about the waving of these tree elements
Lulav & esrog in Sukkah for staff meeting, in which I explained about the waving of these tree elements

I then stopped by the on-campus Beach Hillel sukkah on Monday of Sukkot for Beach Hillel’s “Pizza in the Hut” event.  The following day, we had our staff meeting inside the on-campus Sukkah, where I spoke about the four aboreal elements that were featured there.

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Students enjoying dinner at the Sukkah Hop

That night, I joined in on the annual Sukkah Hop in Irvine that Beach Hillel has partnered with the Chabad of UCI, which – as always – was a blast, where we visited multiple sukkot and students from CSULB, UCI and other schools got to enjoy meeting other Jewish students in the area.

The following day, along with students, we took down the Beach Hillel on-campus sukkah and, just last week, took down the off-campus sukkah.

Working on the 2013 West Coast Hillel Staff Conference

YCT Rabbis at WHO 2010
YCT Rabbis at WHO 2010

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.

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Drew Kugler addressing last year’s WHO about having difficult conversations

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.

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Some of the West Coast Hillel staff members attended a breakfast at this year’s Hillel Institute to hear about the plans for this year’s WHO

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!

Hillel Institute 2013

Hillel Institute 2013 LogoFor the fourth consecutive year, I attended the annual Hillel staff conference, Hillel Institute, in St. Louis. As with the previous two years, I was there due to the financial support of Long Beach Hillel (I had to raise money from private individuals to make it possible for me to attend in 2010), which makes sense, since in my capacity of serving as the rabbi for Long Beach Hillel, I am involved in various ways in its functions.  Moreover, attending Hillel Institute, has – every year – helped me focus me for the new academic year in getting ready for our work as Long Beach Hillel.  That was especially true this year.

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Eric Fingerhut, the new President of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, addressing the staff of Hillel in St. Louis at Hillel Institute 2013

As in years past (see here and here), it was great seeing fellow Yeshivat Chovevei Torah graduates at the conference!  It was also great to meet Long Beach Hillel’s new programming associate and to experience the great amount of energy he is bringing to the position and to the Hillel, writ large.

In addition to the above, the two sessions out of which I got the most were a session with Rabbi Dan Smokler, which was phenomenal and I need to review my notes, since it was incredibly helpful for how I think about going about my work.  The other was a very thought-provoking session on qualitative metrics for Hillels (a topic of interest of mine as evidenced here and, subsequently, here), led by the executive directors of Berkeley Hillel and Princeton Hillel, in which they shared the great work they are doing in gathering and analyzing the qualitative data regarding their Hillels.  I was glad to see not only that it was being done, but also to see how they were doing it.

Even though Hillel Institute 2013 occurred six weeks ago, I am still unpacking the material, ideas, and more from it, which has been a phenomenal catapult for this academic year!

A Breakdown of My Time Spent This Past Year

I frequently get asked as to how much time I spend on the various facets of my job.  One of the biggest questions is how much time I spend with Beach Hillel, since I serve as the rabbi.  In past years, I would spend a significant amount of time with other Hillels, such as Orange County Hillel and Inland Empire Hillel, and I was curious as to how much of that was spent with them.  Whenever people would ask, I would roughly estimate percentages or fractions of how much time I spent with my different activities, since I didn’t have the hard data with which to respond.

However, since my primary benefactor expects me to send him a breakdown of my activities and how much time I spend doing them, I have the data collected.  So, in preparing the annual SoCalJSS/SoCalJYAE  report (which will be forthcoming), I finally went through and sorted it out for the time period of August 2012-July 2013.

Pie Chart of Time Division 2012 to 2013
A breakdown of the time spent devoted towards different activities this year

I came up with two separate sets of data and, yes, two separate pie charts (who doesn’t love pictures?).  In the first of these, pictured to the right (perhaps, above), I show how much time was spent with a variety of my activities, which yields the following: 44% with Long Beach Hillel, 35% with young adults, 14% with Jewlicious Festival, 4% with other Hillels (& AEPi), and 3% with bar mitzvah students.
Pie Chart of All Time Division 2012 to 2013
The second of these two data sets incorporates not only my time dealing with “end users”, but also incorporates “back-end” time, such as donor relations, communication (which is sort of a catch-all, that can include phone calls with young adults or students, Facebook messaging with students or young adults, as well as setting up meetings, etc.), and administrative work.  For this year, it broke down: 25% with Long Beach Hillel, 20% on young adult work, 16% on communication, 14% meetings, 9% donor relations, 7.5 % Jewlicious Festival, 5% administrative work, 2% with bar mitzvah students, 1% the Long Beach Yom HaShoah event (of which I was the Rabbinic Chair), and the remainder working with other campuses’ Hillels.

I am very glad now that I have this data that I can “keep in my back pocket”, so to speak, and be able to respond to people in a substantive fashion regarding the way I spend my time.  One element I do want to do going forward is to break up the components of my communications: how much time is spent on donor communications, how much of it is Beach Hillel-related, how much of it is young adult-related, and so on.

Beach Hillel Staff Learning Sessions: An Evolution

Two years ago at Hillel Institute, I came back with some ideas regarding Beach Hillel, one of which was to incorporate some Jewish content in each of our weekly Beach Hillel staff-and-interns meetings.  While I don’t remember from whom I heard the idea, I do remember coming back from that conference with the idea that any Jewish organizational meeting should have some element of Jewish content. In consultation with Rachel, we decided to incorporate a morsel of Jewish learning into our meetings.

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A Beach Hillel staff-and-interns meeting in the fall of 2011, incorporating Jewish learning about Hillel, the sage

That fall, all of the Jewish content pieces were Talmudic excerpts pertaining to the sage, Hillel, whether statements of his or stories about him, so that our staff and interns would be knowledgeable about our organization’s namesake, so they could respond when asked about the name of Hillel.

Last year, instead of having staff and intern meetings, we simply had staff meetings, so while we began with Hillel the sage-related Jewish content pieces (we had new staff, so we could re-use the material), we then spun off into Jewish content pieces in which our staff was interested in exploring.  It went really well and we had very involved discussions.  However, it often went too well, with the discussions on the Jewish content taking up too much time for us to effectively deal with the actual business with which we needed to deal.

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The first Beach Hillel staff learning session this fall

At this year’s Hillel Institute, I heard the Senior Jewish Educator at the Hillel at UC-Berkeley mentioning that their staff has weekly Jewish learning meetings.  I realized that having a separate staff Jewish content learning session would solve the issue of our not having sufficient time to get to the business at-hand for our meetings.  Also, it would serve not only as an opportunity for our staff to develop greater confidence in their Jewish knowledge and identity, but it would also serve as a way for us to model to our students that we, too, were engaged in Jewish learning.  Furthermore, the content often connects with holidays, which enables our staff to be able to knowledgeably discuss what they are.

Every year is something new in this regard.  I am hoping that as we hire new interns for the school year, we can also incorporate some of those morsels regarding Hillel, the sage, so that they are both aware of our organization’s namesake, as well as being Jewishly enriched.

Office Hours at CSULB

Beach Hillel logo from website smallerYesterday, I began being available on-campus at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) for office hours.  I will be there Tuesdays (September 12th UPDATE:) Wednesdays for the fall semester from 1:30-3:30 in the University Interfaith Center (Brotman Hall, room 178).  It has been a few years since I last held office hours on-campus at CSULB, but will be looking forward to being on-campus at CSULB than I have in a couple of years.  One of the reasons for not having had office hours in recent years was that I seldom had students dropping by, but at least students will know that I’m there and available for them.

Leading Discussions at Moishe House Thus Far in 2013

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Leading a discussion on Mezuzahs at the Moishe House of Orange County in January

This year, I have led several discussions at the Moishe House of Orange County, which has been a great collaborative relationship.  One of the things that makes it great is that we each bring things to the table: they bring the young adults and put out topic-appropriate foods/drinks and I bring the Jewish content.

The first in 2013 was “Margaritas & Mezuzahs: A How-To”, which was a fun event in January.

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Leading a discussion at Moishe House on Sexual Positions According to the Rabbis of the Talmud in April

The second was a part of SoCalJYAE‘s spring series on sex, on “Sexual Positions According to the Rabbis of the Talmud” in April, which was fantastic.  At the conclusion of that event, the residents suggested we push the envelope even further.

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Leading a discussion on masturbation at the Moishe House in July

Thus, resulted two summer discussions on topics that are seldom discussed in Jewish life.  The first of these was “Bloody Marys and Menstruation” in June, with the second being in July on masturbation.

It’s not clear where this great collaboration with the Moishe House of Orange County will go, but we are providing some very fresh discussions for young Jewish adults in Orange County!

No More Newsletters, Per Se: Concerning Communications

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Front page of the October 2012 issue of the SoCalJSS Newsletter

Since January 2010, I have been putting out newsletters for my job (with Southern California Jewish Student Services and also Southern California Jewish Young Adult Enrichment), however, I have recently realized that I should discontinue doing so.  While attending the 2013 Hillel Institute, I realized that not that many people spend the time to read a double-sided 8.5×11 .pdfs I produce (even if some people read the printed copies, it’s still not enough).  It just does not seem to make sense to me to continue spending as much time as I do on dealing with the layout of the newsletters, since it’s just a hassle that does not yield enough readership attention.  While it did make sense when I was getting issues sponsored, it was worthwhile as a revenue-generator, it’s been a couple of years since I have consistently had it sponsored.

Although I will continue putting out monthly e-mails to communicate my activities, in lieu of linking to the online pdfs of the newsletters, I will be [doing what everyone else does:] linking to articles of content about the events, activities, etc.

In a related matter, I realized yesterday that although the newsletters were up on the SoCalJSS website for anyone to read to discover and get a sense of my activities with SoCalJSS (I started putting pages together for SoCalJYAE), there wasn’t an easy way to quickly discover with which activities SoCalJSS has been involved.  So, I put together some pages to detail SoCalJSS’ activities with other organizations.  While I need to further work on developing the content therein, at least they’re there 🙂

On the Foundations of my Jewish Identity

IMG_0212 - CopyToday, I published a piece on my Jewish identity on my personal blog.  In it, I primarily discuss how I got interested in living Jewishly, which was inspired by a question at a BBYO program I attended, as well as being happily surprised by finding a fellow rabbi’s articulation of his Jewish identity.  It is helpful in understanding how I relate to my Jewish identity.  I wonder if others have a similar approach.