It’s the end of August and, right on time, swarms of college students are descending onto campuses across the region.
While professors prepare lecture notes and RAs hang their last decorations, campus Hillels are also finalizing plans for the new year.
Ira Blum, assistant director of Penn Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania, said the organization has a host of new and returning programs for Jewish students.
“Student leaders have been working all summer to organize,” he said. Among the planned events include a suite of welcoming events for new students.
During the first weeks of school, Blum said Penn Hillel will sponsor “a retreat for 30 new students, a move-in reception for students and families, an evening with puppies and pictures, pickup basketball, an annual barbecue bash, and late-night pancakes.”
He said another important facet of Hillel programming is helping students “learn about Jewish adulting, relationship mapping, Israel” and more.
To do so, Penn Hillel is launching a new learning program called the Jewish Environmental Initiative, he said.
“Climate change and global environmental degradation are two of the most pressing concerns of our lifetime,” Blum explained.
The program aims to bring Judaism into the conversation about climate change.
“Twelve students will engage in a semester of learning Jewish approaches and thinking about the environment and sustainability,” Blum said.
The students will also work closely with other campus groups combating environmental problems, Blum said, further entwining the religious and secular.
Susan Becker, assistant director of Hillel at Temple University, also mentioned new programs.
“This year, we are trying out a new back-to-school experience called HillelFest,” she explained.
“It will be a big outdoor carnival-type event with games, food and more.”
The event will take place on Aug. 23, and lead attendees into the first Shabbat of the semester at Hillel. The goal is to build Jewish engagement early in the year.
Another fun night, the Welcome Back BBQ, will return this year. Becker promised the barbecue to share food and fun during the often-stressful first week of classes.
“We are hoping all new freshman and transfer students come check these things out to get to know Hillel a bit, and of course, enjoy free food,” she said.
Similarly, Hannah Rosenberg, director of engagement at Hillel at Drexel, said excitedly that her organization has “lots of things coming up.”
“Drexel doesn’t have an ‘Orientation Week’ like most college campuses,” Rosenberg said, so instead Hillel at Drexel organizes events during students’ first week on campus.
During this week, Rosenberg said, “we’re having events like S’mores and Havdalah, volunteering with the Jewish Relief Agency and a challah bake sale.”
Hillel at Drexel will also look for student leaders during that time, she said. The organization will host an “involvement fair” to encourage students to attend Hillel events and apply for leadership opportunities within Hillel.
Rosenberg said one of Hillel’s most popular programs is returning stronger than ever. “Jewniversity,” as it’s called, allows incoming freshmen to move in early and explore the city as a Jewish cohort. This is especially important, as one of Drexel’s two freshman move-in dates falls on Shabbat.
A record 52 students have already registered for the experience, Rosenberg said.
She laid out the itinerary, packed with fun events.
“We have a memorable Shabbat experience with challah braiding, strolls on the Schuylkill River Trail, services led by all our minyan groups.”
Rosenberg closed by mentioning programming for the High Holidays. Hillel at Drexel decided upon a themed approach for the High Holidays this year, she said, calling it “What do you dare to dream?”
“The first step to actualizing our dreams is having the courage to vocalize them,” she explained. “The new year in the academic and Jewish calendars offers us a moment to summon the courage to dream big as we set our intentions for what we hope to accomplish in the coming 12 months.”