Tag Archives: Hillel

At the opening gathering of Hillel International's Circles of Educational Excellence

Initial Meeting of Hillel International’s Circles of Educational Excellence [Throwback Thursday]

At the opening gathering of Hillel International's Circles of Educational Excellence
At the opening gathering of Hillel International’s Circles of Educational Excellence

In December, immediately prior to Hillel International’s General Assembly, I took part in the first meetings of the first cohort of Hillel International’s Circles of Educational Excellence. Beginning on Sunday night with some introductory activities, the group got going in earnest on Monday morning, continuing on through mid-afternoon.

Consisting of the executive directors and rabbis/Jewish educators of nine Hillels in addition to some other staff leading the group, my wife and I representing Beach Hillel were the only Hillel from the western half of the US. The other eight were comprised of five Hillels from the Midwest and three from the northeast.

A historical discussion about the Senior Jewish Educator program
A historical discussion about the Senior Jewish Educator program

While it was not a frontal presentation, it relied heavily on leveraging the shared experience and brainpower of the group to help generate ideas and share what we do.

An interesting treat was to hear from some people who had been involved with the Senior Jewish Educator project, both from Hillel SIC, individual Hillels, and the Jim Joseph Foundation. It was quite informative to hear about its history and about different models of its deployment.

Eric Fingerhut addressing the group
Eric Fingerhut addressing the group

We also got to be visited by Eric Fingerhut and have him speak to our group, which was nice to have him express his interest in this initiative.

We then split up into three different groups according to how roughly similar our campuses were, which was interesting. After that, we mapped out our campuses and our assets, and then we moved to developing an educational experiment with measurable outcomes.

Unfortunately, due to time, we were unable to come back together to share what our educational experiments were with the other groups to bounce our ideas off of each other, to strengthen them. It would definitely have been great if we had had the time even to just get back into the sub-groups to share our ideas and to see how they would be and be sharpened.

We then bid each other adieu and off to Hillel International’s first-ever General Assembly.

With Chapman, CSULB, and UCI students during Passover

Visiting Chapman, CSULB, & UCI Students During Passover

With Chapman, CSULB, and UCI students during Passover
With Chapman, CSULB, and UCI students during Passover

Last week during Passover, I visited a few different campuses to hang with students during lunchtime to enjoy some matzah with them.  On Monday, I went to California State University, Long Beach to join up with Beach Hillel for their matzah gathering; on Tuesday, I went to Chapman University to join up with their Hillel; and, on Thursday, I went to University of California, Irvine to join up with their Hillel.  It was a nice opportunity to get various students together and to schmooze with them over some matzah, while celebrating Passover.

With CSULB students at a discussion for Beach Hillel on Thursday on kosher food in the Torah

Torah on Tap Discussion on Kosher Food with Beach Hillel

Leading a discussion for Beach Hillel on Thursday on kosher food in the Torah
Leading a discussion for Beach Hillel on Thursday on kosher food in the Torah

By student request, I led a discussion on kosher food for Beach Hillel on Thursday. Taking place at The Nugget on the campus of California State University, Long Beach, I led a discussion on the fundamentals of kosher food as found in the Torah (a/k/a the Five Books of Moses), with a primary focus on Leviticus, chapter 11.

With CSULB students at a discussion for Beach Hillel on Thursday on kosher food in the Torah
With CSULB students at a discussion for Beach Hillel on Thursday on kosher food in the Torah

This Torah on Tap event was the second of three monthly such events taking place for Beach Hillel this semester, just as we had done in the fall semester. Last month, with St. Valentine’s Day being in the popular consciousness, we discussed sex and consensuality in the Talmud.

Pizza in the Hut at CSULB

Sukkot Activities with Beach Hillel

With students at CSULB upon putting up the sukkah
With students at CSULB upon putting up the sukkah

Last month, in addition to leading a discussion for young adults in Orange County, I was involved in several of Beach Hillel‘s activities for Sukkot.

For starters, I worked with students and staff to put up the on-campus sukkah at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), as well as to take it down.  Although we made this sukkah available for use by students, faculty, and staff on-campus, we also used it for a “Pizza in the Hut” lunchtime get-together during the holiday.  We also had a staff meeting in the sukkah, as well.

Pizza in the Hut at CSULB
Pizza in the Hut at CSULB

I also helped put up the off-campus sukkah, as well as taking it down,  where we held Shabbat dinner during the holiday, which had a nice feeling to it, being outside in the nice weather.

Finally, we had the annual Sukkah Hop, which, for the third year in a row, was held in Irvine.  Beach Hillel partnered again with Chabad at University of California, Irvine (UCI) for a great time with students from UCI, CSULB, and other schools, to visit multiple sukkot, ending up in a dinner at a big sukkah with music and dancing.

Speaking with students at University of Redlands

Speaking with Redlands Hillel

Speaking with students at University of Redlands
Speaking with students at University of Redlands

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with dozens of students at University of Redlands in collaboration with their Hillel, followed up with a visit to continue the conversations at a local brewery.

On Thursday evening, I went to University of Redlands to speak with students to discuss Jewish topics of interest to them, in collaboration with its Hillel. A Question-And-Answer session ensued, with a bunch of questions thrown at me about me and my being a rabbi (it kind of felt like “Inside the Rabbi’s Studio”), followed by numerous questions about Jewish life and more.

Speaking with young adults and students at Hangar 24
Speaking with young adults and students at Hangar 24

From there, I went with about a dozen students came for a follow-up discussion about sex at Hangar 24. Despite the crowds, the noise, and our not having seats due to a busy night, we were able to have a fruitful conversation about sex in Judaism.

Speaking with students at University of Redlands
Speaking with students at University of Redlands

It was nice to be back speaking with the Hillel at Redlands, since it has been several years since I had been there and it’s a great campus and the students are very enthusiastic.

Speaking about Yom Kippur with CSUF students

Speaking with CSUF Students about Yom Kippur

Speaking about Yom Kippur with CSUF students
Speaking about Yom Kippur with CSUF students

For the second time this semester, I had the pleasure of speaking with students at California State University – Fullerton about an upcoming holiday.  Yesterday, in collaboration with the Hillel of Orange County, I spoke with students about Yom Kippur.

Having previously spoken with them two weeks previously about Rosh HaShanah, we met up in the Titan Student Union midday to discuss various practices that we Jewish people do concerning the holiday that begins tonight and continues through tomorrow night.

Speaking with students yesterday at Cal State Fullerton about Rosh HaShanah

Speaking with CSUF Students about Rosh HaShanah

Speaking with students yesterday at Cal State Fullerton about Rosh HaShanah
Speaking with students yesterday at Cal State Fullerton about Rosh HaShanah (Photo courtesy of Lihi Gordon)

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with students at California State University, Fullerton about the upcoming holiday of Rosh HaShanah.  In collaboration with Orange County Hillel, I spoke during their weekly “Throw Bagel Thursday” event in the Titan Student Union, discussing aspects about the holiday, which will be coming up next week.  I was glad that these students were able to get some mental preparation for The Jewish New Year.

It was great to lead a discussion with a dozen students yesterday

Discussing Judging with Beach Hillel

It was great to lead a discussion with a dozen students yesterday
It was great to lead a discussion with a dozen students yesterday

Yesterday, I led a discussion with a dozen students at California State University, Long Beach for Beach Hillel on the topic of judging. Appropriate for the upcoming holiday of Rosh HaShanah – the Jewish New Year, also known as Yom HaDin – the Day of Judgment, we discussed judging.  As a way to ground our conversation, I had gathered over a half-dozen texts from the Mishnah and the Talmud for conversing about how our Sages considered judging.

For the 2014-2015 academic year,  Beach Hillel is holding a monthly Jewish learning opportunity in the form of a “Torah on Tap”-style class and I lead the discussion on a Jewish topic, while Beach Hillel covers the first round of drinks.   For this first “Torah on Tap” discussion of the academic year, I though that “judging” would be an interesting topic to cover, since many university students discuss judging and how right or wrong it is.

One thing I wanted to push was the very important rabbinic dictum, which appears several times in rabbinic literature, of hevy dan haverkha lekhaf zekhut – judge your fellow person favorably (in other words, giving people the benefit of the doubt), about which I have written elsewhere.

With this first class of the year for Beach Hillel, I am excited for future such classes with students :)

With Rabbi Daniel Levitt, a fellow YCT alumnus

Hillel Institute 2013 [Throwback Thursday]

With Rabbi Daniel Levitt, a fellow YCT alumnus
With Rabbi Daniel Levitt, a fellow YCT alumnus

With the current Summer Hillel Institute taking place at the moment, I figured this would be a good opportunity to share some of how I was enriched from taking part in this professional development gathering.*

Rabbi Daniel Smokler leading a lunch and learn discussion at Hillel Institute 2013
Rabbi Daniel Smokler leading a lunch and learn discussion at Hillel Institute 2013

The clear highlights for me were attending Rabbi Daniel Smokler’s sessions.  He did one with a bunch of Jewish educators, rabbis, etc., which was amazing as we were flying through ideas, tools, and methodologies – it was very impressive.  I was greatly enriched by it, especially getting a perspective on how different Jews (especially generations of Jews) conceive of their Jewish identities differently.  An important tool that he shared with us was his description of a Conversation Arc, which is very helpful, especially to move beyond simply schmoozing. Another key takeaway from it for me was – in his describing primary elements for us to share with our students – the importance of community for students.  His presentation is worthy of a lot of time, writing, etc.  However, Rabbi Smokler permitted me to record his excellent session, so you can listen for yourself, which is available here (I have listened to it multiple times, despite having been in the room).  Another opportunity I had to hear Rabbi Smokler was at a lunch & learn session – to which I chose to go – and also enjoyed.

Another major session I attended was about fundraising. I was hoping it would be about making asks, conversing with donors – skill sets for raising money. Unfortunately, that had been going on during the sessions I was with other Jewish educators.  So, since mine was for development professionals  about thinking about time spent on development and coming up with a development plan etc., I departed in the midst of it.

Rabbi Julie Roth of Princeton Hillel speaking while Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman  of Berkeley Hillel looks on in their session on qualitative data for Hillels
Rabbi Julie Roth of Princeton Hillel speaking while Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman of Berkeley Hillel looks on in their session on qualitative data for Hillels

A two-part session I attended was incredible.  The executive directors of Berkeley Hillel and Princeton Hillel for presented on not only coming up with qualitative metrics (which is, apparently, rare amongst Hillels) but also skillfully weaving it with their vision, goals, mission and strategies. Afterwards, it dawned on me that the phenomenal material and ideas shared would be amazing for ALL Hillel staffs to be considering.  I was fortunate in that I was able to convince the executive director of Berkeley Hillel to share some of this incredible work at the west coast Hillel staff conference in the winter (which I co-chaired).

I also want to give sincere appreciation to my alma mater, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, for sponsoring the handful of alumni to get together for some beers, which was a nice way not only for us to re-connect, but also to share ideas, materials, etc.

Awards Ceremony at Hillel Engagement 2013
Awards Ceremony at Hillel Engagement 2013

Finally, I thought the award presentations were done phenomenally – I have consistently been impressed at how well-run these award presentations are done, year-in and year-out – it is a good model for the rest of the Jewish world.

A couple of realizations I had while attending the conference:

  • Since many of our students are not particularly keen on looking at printed texts and discussing them, I thought to move towards a discussion model, less focus on printed texts in front of us.  That doesn’t mean necessarily getting rid of them altogether, just not always having to rely upon them.
  • Not bothering to put together a monthly pdf and print newsletter anymore.  I had been doing them for most of my time in the position (3.5 years to be exact). However, the amount of people actually  reading them is too few to justify the time and energy I spend on them. Better to just post stuff on Facebook.

Every time I have attended Hillel Institute, it has been greatly enriching professionally and encouraging in our line of work, as well, especially to give us an energy boost moving into the new school year.  (And, yes, I am sad that it moved.)

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* Also, this blog was not present at the time, coming into existence only a few weeks later.

Speaking with California State University, Fullerton students in March about Purim

Leading Discussions with SoCal Hillels this Spring

Speaking with California State University, Fullerton students in March about Purim
Speaking with California State University, Fullerton students in March about Purim

As the spring semester is wrapping up, I wanted to share which discussions I have led at which campuses here in Southern California, through my current position as rabbi of Southern California Jewish Student Services. I will start off with my two discussions at California State University, Fullerton with the Hillel group there, where I led a text-based discussion about dreams in February and spoke about Purim in March.

With Occidental College students - April 2014
With Occidental College students

In April, I visited the Hillel group at Occidental College for the first time, where I got to learn about the campus culture there and, specifically, their Hillel.  We then engaged in a question-and-answer session, with the students peppering me with some tough queries.

Speaking at California State University, Long Beach in February
Speaking at California State University, Long Beach in February

Finally, I led three “Torah on Tap” discussions at California State University, Long Beach in collaboration with Long Beach Hillel. The first of these in February, in advance of St. Valentine’s Day, was a text-based discussion on finding one’s partner.  The second was a question-and-answer conversation in March about sex. And the third  was a text-based discussion on “pious fools” in April. I was glad I was able to lead these discussions in Fullerton, Long Beach, and Occidental and greatly enjoyed being able to share Jewish wisdom with these college students :)