Local Hillel students gather for learning opportunities

Local Hillel students gather for learning opportunities.


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What is Hillel?

The answer to that question has changed over the past 100 years (yes, Hillel has been around for a century), reflecting the changes that students have brought to their campus experiences over the generations.

Though Hillel has evolved significantly over a century, and even more so recently to meet the needs of this current group of college students in Generation Z, there is one thing that has remained true since the beginning, and this drives everything we do every day as Hillel: Hillel is a deeply effective Jewish educational organization.

On our campuses, Hillel provides the means for students to embrace and celebrate their Judaism through enriching cultural, religious and social programs while cultivating a pluralistic Jewish community. We ensure that every Jewish student has the chance to connect to their own personal Jewish identity while interacting with the Jewish community in our region, in Cleveland, Kent, Akron and Oberlin, in Israel, and beyond. And we do it all through the lens of Jewish education.

Strengthening Jewish identity through informal Jewish and Israel education drives Hillel’s mission and is infused into all key areas of our work. Offering targeted and enhanced program options around experiential Jewish education is a priority that has grown across the global Hillel movement, and we are excited to apply this idea and its positive influence on our mission and vision at both Cleveland Hillel and Hillel at Kent State University. Jewish education drives our mission, and it is the passion of all Hillel staff to commit to bring quality Jewish experiential education so we can elevate our student’s Jewish lives and identities.

Hillel International’s Jewish Learning

Fellowship is a prime example of the innovative cohort-based learning that has successfully strengthened the Jewish identity of the students on campus. Since 2019, 200 Jewish college students in Northeast Ohio have participated in 10-week cohort-based Jewish learning with Hillel educators. The students learn from Jewish text, and importantly, each other. Our students come from all varieties of Jewish background, from Orthodoxy, to students who are diving into text for the first time since their b’nai mitzvah, to some even finishing their conversion to Judaism. That type of diversity in thought is extremely rare in formal Jewish spaces. This range in thought and background create invaluable learning experiences for students and is the essence of what makes Hillel special.

Over the 10 weeks, students deepen their Judaism as well as their community. New friendships are created, and existing ones deepened. The regularity of the weekly dinner program enables students to create a rhythm with the Jewish calendar. Throughout the program the cohort leads a Friday night Shabbat experience at Hillel and interact as a community with the Jewish holidays. For many students, this education program is a major highlight of their connection with Hillel.

Hillel is home to the greatest diversity of religious expression of any major Jewish local, national or international organization. We continue to see an increasingly diverse backgrounds in the Jewish college students with whom we connect daily, and we know that a student’s understanding of Jewish life and sense of connection to the Jewish people are heavily influenced by the makeup of their family and community. Religious pluralism and a welcoming environment are part of our core values, and helping every Jewish student develop their own comfort level with Jewish education and religious and spiritual expression within the broad expanse of Jewish life is a fundamental Hillel responsibility.

As Hillel professionals, we believe that Jewish learning remains a key method of engaging with our faith, history, and tradition. Strengthening Jewish identity through informal Jewish education drives Hillel’s mission, and it is infused into all key areas of our work. We are proud of our ability to engage students in such a meaningful and special way, making sure each student feels that their own place on the spectrum of religious expression is valued. By doing so, we can be confident that the Jewish future will be in good hands.

Adam Hirsh is executive director of Hillel at Kent State University and Jared Isaacson is executive director of Cleveland Hillel.