Supporting Students’ Mental Health: Jewish Federation Secures Therapist for Temple Hillel

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From left: Therapist and Wellness Coordinator Rachel Slater and Acting Executive Director Laurel Klein Freedman of Temple Hillel. Courtesy of Temple Hillel

College is a time of transition from childhood to adulthood. This transition comes with its unique challenges, but since Oct. 7, it has been compounded with an unprecedented level of antisemitism that Jewish students have to navigate.

Instead of focusing on socializing and classwork, Jewish students have the added pressure of dealing with safety issues to their mental health and physical well-being. These unsettling realities have escalated because of the ongoing pro-Palestine campus protests that have, in several cases, targeted Jews and have promulgated antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric.

To combat antisemitism and increase mental health support, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia allocated $90,000 for Hillel at Temple University to hire a full-time social worker to help students mitigate these new challenges.


“I have so much gratitude to the Jewish Federation,” said Temple Hillel’s new Therapist and Wellness Coordinator Rachel Slater, who started in March through a partnership with the Jewish Federation-supported Jewish Family and Children’s Service. “I get to support a population of students who need it right now and to know they have a safe place in Hillel. My goal is to continue to create bridges with students so that they feel safe at school.”
Slater is not the only new member of the Temple Hillel team. Laurel Klein Freedman joined as the acting executive director in February.

“I … accepted the position because of what’s been going on on college campuses recently and rising antisemitism,” Freedman said. “Because there is a need for safe spaces, and being somebody that is very protective of our Jewish community, it felt like a great fit.”
Antisemitic incidents on college and university campuses spiked by a staggering 321% with 922 incidents in 2023, most of which occurred after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

“There is antisemitism on campus,” Freedman said. “It’s coming from other students, it’s coming from professors, it’s coming from people who don’t even belong on campus that are just showing up to support a cause.”

Israeli exchange student Shulamit Laniado (third from left) with fellow Jewish students at Temple University. Courtesy of Temple Hillel

With rising antisemitism, college students need a place to feel safe, according to Freedman. She said Temple Hillel allows students to decompress, connect with like-minded peers and escape from the chaos of campus.

“Hillel is like a home for me,” said Israeli exchange student Shulamit Laniado, who is obtaining her Master of Law from Temple University. “As an LLM student participating in the exchange program, the feeling I miss the most is that of home. Every time I enter the Hillel building, it’s a safe place where I can be myself to study, relax and enjoy.”

A social worker is particularly vital for this Hillel since the overall socioeconomic status of Temple University’s student body is lower than that of some of Greater Philadelphia’s other schools. Therefore, impacted individuals may have an increased financial barrier in accessing the support they desperately need right now.

In addition to the special allocation for a social worker, the Jewish Federation provides year-round funding to Greater Philadelphia Hillels to support their work of Jewish enrichment, engagement and connection. In fiscal 2023, the Jewish Federation allocated approximately $716,300 to regional Hillels.

“As the Jewish Federation, we are with Jewish students, protecting their physical safety as well as their mental health and well-being in the face of unprecedented antisemitism,” Jewish Federation Director of Local Grants and Partnerships Brian Gralnick said. “By establishing a strong foundational network of holistic resources for students, we provide them with the tools to thrive in collegiate settings and beyond, to create a social safety net among their fellow Jewish students and understand the importance of a vibrant Jewish community.”

The Jewish Federation is concerned about the mental health of students, which is also intrinsically connected with their physical health and safety. As a continued commitment to making college campuses safe for everyone, the Jewish Federation’s Security Director Scott Kerns of Secure Community Network — the official safety and security organization for the Jewish community in North America — has worked with Temple Hillel to improve security measures, including completing a threat assessment, installing new surveillance cameras and televisions, and continuing to remain a resource for the building’s security needs.
“We are in touch with our Hillels and local law enforcement to ensure students’ security,” Kerns said. “With rising antisemitism and hate on campuses, we remain committed to being vigilant and ensuring that these spaces are safe for their communities to learn, access, inhabit and congregate on.”

In looking toward the future, Slater believes that the benefits of mental health resources will not only benefit the individual students but also the region. According to Temple University, 64% of its students are Pennsylvania residents.

“Having a mental health counselor at Temple has the potential for huge positive impacts for Philadelphia,” Slater said. “Knowing that so many of these students are from the Greater Philadelphia area means that they get to then impact Philadelphia. We’re not just investing in our students — we’re investing in our city.”

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Help protect Jewish students on campuses by making a gift to the Jewish Federation’s LiveSecure Campaign at jewishphilly.org/livesecure. If you have experienced, witnessed or know of antisemitism, report it at jewishphilly.org/report.

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