Cultivating Community with the Grad Student Network


Jessica Rose moved to Philadelphia to start nursing school at the University of Pennsylvania. As she settled into her unfamiliar new city, Rose hoped to find a Jewish community.

“My Judaism is important to me,” Rose explained. “And I can’t always get home to Boston for the holidays.”

But searching for a synagogue can be tough for a recent transplant with a rigorous school schedule. Luckily for Rose, though, a resource was already in place: Hillel’s Jewish Graduate Student Network, funded by our Jewish Federation.

The popular Grad Network puts on citywide events for all Jewish graduate students, as well as supporting the 20 Jewish graduate student organizations in Philadelphia.

“It’s an ecosystem of super-smart students who connect with their Judaism,” Executive Director Tslil Shtulsaft said. And with millennials flooding into Philadelphia — a 2014 Pew study found Philadelphia had the nation’s fastest population growth of 20- to 34-year-olds — the city presents a unique opportunity.

“The goal is to create a Jewish community for them, and ultimately keep them in Philadelphia,” Shtulsaft said.

Think about it, he urged.

The Grad Network engages students with Shabbat dinners and holiday events all over the city, allowing people at the same life stage to connect, explore the city together and expand their social networks.

“Our events are so much fun. No one ever wants to leave,” Shtulsaft said with a laugh. And in the long term, the students’ sense of belonging might just convince them to stay beyond graduation day. “When these bright and motivated grad students stay here, they become top-notch leaders,” Shtulsaft said. “It builds a stronger Jewish community.”

The number of participants in the Grad Network keeps rising, to a record 1,550 people last year. One of them was Rose.

“I’ve met so many of my friends through this community,” she said. “I actually met my current roommate at a Shabbat dinner.”

And Rose didn’t wait until graduation to help strengthen the local Jewish community: With the Grad Network’s help, she co-founded Philadelphia’s newest Jewish grad organization, the Jewish Nursing Graduate Student Organization.

“It brings together people who have shared passions — for nursing and also being Jewish,” she explained. “Just to create that community I love.”

For more information about the Jewish Graduate Student Network, visit


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