New Programs in Store at Area Hillels

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It’s that time of year when students start savoring their final home-cooked meals of the summer and pack their bags to head back to college.

And area Hillels are ready to welcome students back with open arms and a fresh slate of programming.

For example, Hillel at Drexel University is restructuring its internships program, per Executive Director and Campus Rabbi Isabel de Koninck.


One highlight is the new Tikkun Olam Engagement Internship, focused on learning about social justice issues through Jewish perspectives and creating opportunities for students to volunteer in local community agencies, de Koninck explained.

She’s looking forward to meeting incoming students through Jewniversity, Hillel’s early move-in program.

“Students should expect Jewish life that meets them where they are and inspires them to become the best version of themselves,” she said.  

Ira Blum, assistant director of Penn Hillel, is anticipating the many events and fun programs the year will bring — starting with Penn Hillel’s signature new student orientation program starting Aug. 21, where students will get an introduction to Philadelphia and Jewish life at the University of Pennsylvania.  

Penn Hillel students at a barbecue during New Student Orientation | Photo provided

During the year, students can look forward to events like an evening with Chef Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook of Zahav, who will share stories about their lives and Israel, and talk about their new book, Israeli Soul (bonus: there will be food from their falafel joint Goldie, which also opened on Penn’s campus last year).

There will also be a focus on building the Encompass experience, which brings together Penn students of “diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds in order to build bridges and gain a deeper understanding of the complex narratives of Israel.”

In addition to service trips and volunteer opportunities, there will be seven fellowships. Two of note include the Israel Learning Lab, an experiential and conversational seminar for students looking to deepen their understanding of Israel on their own terms, and the Alif Bet Fellowship, which offers peer-to-peer learning of Hebrew and Arabic languages and culture side-by-side.

A new update for this year: All of the fellowship gatherings will take place on the same evening.

“We’re acting on the belief that we’re greater than the sum of our parts, and that students have much to offer and gain in expanding social circles,” Blum said. “We’re excited for this new model to harness the meaningful learning already inspiring students at Penn Hillel.”

At Hillel at Temple University, there will be a greater emphasis on its Birthright program, thanks to a new full-time staff member whose focus will be solely on Birthright, noted Susan Becker, director of Jewish Life.

Students will be able to build on the programming boards created last year, which created boards for specific areas of interest instead of just one general student board.

Mainstays such as free weekly Shabbat dinners and a bimonthly bagel brunch will return this school year as well.

Temple students can anticipate “more programming and more opportunities to get involved in a specific area of interest, whether it’s planning Shabbat dinners, social action projects — there’s something for everyone in a more specific way,” she said.

Outside city limits, students — undergraduate and graduate — will have plenty of ways to get involved in Jewish life.

Tslil Shtulsaft, executive director of Hillels in Philadelphia and the Jewish Graduate Student Network, is excited for the upcoming year.

At West Chester University, for instance, whereas there was only a part-time rabbinic intern on campus, the nearly 500 Jewish students will now have a full-time director of Jewish student life, which is “incredible,” Shtulsaft said.

There also will be a West Chester Hillel Birthright trip for the first time — open to the “HIP” network, as he calls Hillels in Philadelphia — consistent Shabbat dinners and services, and an engagement internship offering.

“At West Chester, everything is going to be bigger and better this year,” he said.  

Shabbat programming will be vital at Bryn Mawr and Haverford colleges, he noted, along with lecture series and speaker events.

“Educational programming about Judaism is something that really resonates with a lot of students on those campuses,” he said.

Graduate students at schools across Philadelphia and the surrounding area will have expanded High Holidays and Shabbat programming in the upcoming year, with the big Welcome Shabbat Dinner kicking things off on Aug. 24.

“When you come to a Welcome Shabbat Dinner, you’ll be a Penn law student and sit next to a student at Temple’s dental school and an occupational therapy student from Jefferson University,” he said. “It creates this cool ecosystem of everyone coming from different walks of life and different programs, but they’re all experiencing the same thing.”

mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740

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