Even though Penn Hillel is an institution for Jewish life on campus, it is also a resource for every undergraduate, no matter their religion, politics or perspectives.
As the student president of Penn Hillel, I send a lot of emails. Specifically, I invite students to events Hillel is having. A school of 10,000 students, with one of the largest Hillels in the country, means a lot of programs — and even more potential students to engage. Needless to say, I have become very familiar with the Penn Online Directory.
You might think my emails only go to Penn’s approximately 2,500 Jewish students. Most of the time, they do. But there are also many cases when they reach a wider audience. Even though Penn Hillel is an institution for Jewish life on campus, it is also a resource for every undergraduate, no matter their religion, politics or perspectives.
Through my leadership at Hillel, I have learned the value of inclusivity and the importance of welcoming people from different backgrounds. Just last week, I put together a program in which our Hillel’s executive director, Rabbi Mike Uram, spoke about community-building. We decided to invite every student, Jewish or not, with a leadership position in one of Hillel’s many constituent groups. Being Jewish is obviously not a prerequisite to an interest in effective community building.
Here’s another example of Penn Hillel serving as a welcoming home for the entire campus community: One of Hillel’s affiliated student groups, Penn Israel Public Affairs Committee (PIPAC), is known on campus as the most effective student lobbying organization, with experience advocating in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia district offices. Last year, during Penn’s Policy Week, PIPAC hosted a very well-attended lobbying workshop to share their expertise with other politically interested students. The workshop was co-sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, MEChA de Penn (a Mexican-American student group) and Penn Environmental Group. PIPAC held the event to encourage political activism on whatever issue these diverse students care about. Israel was the access point for these Hillel students to become engaged in the political process, but they shared their newfound skills with classmates who support other causes.
Penn Hillel is proud to provide a home for all students on campus, not just Jewish ones. Yes, Penn Hillel provides Jewish students who need it with daily kosher food options. But it also provides all students with healthy and delicious meals, and vegan and gluten-free options at a dining hall where students can use their meal plans. Yes, Penn Hillel’s second-floor auditorium provides a prayer space for Orthodox students on Shabbat, but it also provides practice space for City Step, a community service group that teaches dance at West Philly public schools, and a much-needed meeting space for fraternities and sororities.
The list goes on about the ways that the facilities, staff, and students of Hillel support our campus as a whole. The Torah teaches us to love thy neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), which includes our classmates and peers. Thus, with every student from a different faith that feels welcomed and empowered at Penn Hillel, the more Jewish our institution becomes.