Hillel At FSU
Hillel At FSU
By: Carlie R. Golden, Fall 2015
When it comes to a persons religion, some people see it as their home away from home. That place they go to feel most comfortable or where they feel their sense of belonging. For close to 4000 jewish students here at Florida State University, Hillel is that place. Starting from a little synagogue at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, to now having hundreds of other sites either on college campuses or just around the United States and more than 55 outside the United States, Hillel has grown into a well-known community that enriches the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich their communities and the world. I was fortunate to be able to interview the Executive Director of Hillel here at Florida State University and she gave me some insight about the religion and the history of Hillel.
A rabbinic student named, BenjaminFrankel, decided to open a place in 1923 where Jewish men would be able to go in order to observe their culture and religion, and also find other jews just like them. Certain colleges during this time really were accepting of Jewish students. This one individual, who happened to be interning at a nearby temple, decided to gather up a group of men and give the local Jewish community a sense of belonging. The purpose of this group what to provide the religious opportunity that the community was not giving them. By giving them this opportunity, Jewish teens were able to find their inner jewish identity whether it was through prayers, community, cooking, learning or just being around people of the same beliefs. At a pivotal crossroads in many peoples lives as they enter early adulthood, students sought out Hillel as a place to remain true to their Jewish Heritage rather than abandon their culture and religion completely. Due to this, the community shifted away from just having religious thoughts and beliefs about Judaism to actually seeing and being a part of their culture as well. Once women were able to join this organization, it branched out and become well-known and very popular in the United States.
Hillel at Florida State University originated in 1981 on the corner of Woodward Avenue and West Pensacola Street. This organization supports all expressions of Jewish life on campus and offers an environment in which Jewish Students can create the type of Jewish life they wish to have. These people are able to reach and seek out their Jewish identity my just being active in the community and working together to help people or just a simple song on Friday nights. The diverse, pluralistic environment is extremely welcoming to all sects of Judaism, including reform, conservative and orthodox doctrines, and extremely accommodating to their needs.
Hillel offers a numerous amount of community engagement activities and philanthropic opportunities. In Hebrew, “Tikkun Olam” directly translates to “repair of the world” and involves charity and doing good deeds within your community. The community service that Jewish students here at FSU take part of really creates a bond between them and their community. For example, Habitat for Humanity and Challah for Hunger are two primary projects that manifest in the idea of Tikkun Olam. Hillel is also extremely involved in helping Israel, assisting families effected by the Middle East Conflict with donations and supplies. For example, Hillel partnered with international Jewish Fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi’s local chapter in raising money for widows and children of IDF soldiers this past year. Another community event that Hillel participates in is creating a seder, which is a sit down meal usually during the holidays that involves praying before eating. Anyone who wants can come out and join Hillel’s feast are welcome as they either bring in the new year during Rosh Hashanah or remembering our ancestors in Egypt during Passover. Whatever holiday or event that is occurring in the Jewish religion, Hillel is there to welcome you students their home when you are unable to go home to be with your family. Another way that Jewish students are able to get involved is taking part in classes that have to do with Judaism and the study of the religion or just to learn the Hebrew language. Leadership classes also are available to be able to help these students become leaders in their community and be able to take a big role in their community some day.
The connections that Hillel has made with other institutions were able to broaden their relations with them and they work together in expanding Jewish knowledge. By doing this, it enables them to spread the word about their organization and recruit more people or just to simply show people what they have to offer. The Orthodox Temple, Chabad, and Hillel come together occasionally and hold programs to be able to provide for all Orthodox, Conservative and Reform people. They did an event held on FSU campus where they had an open Sukkah for the holiday Sukkot and anyone was welcome to come. They organized this meet up in order to show that anyone is welcome even if you are not in an organized religion or group. Many different people have various perspectives about and on religion so they wanted to be welcoming to all.
When I spoke to the director of the Hillel at FSU, she stated that “Hillel is unique in comparison to other organizations because Hillel revolves around authenticity. They support all expressions of Jewish life on campus and offer an environment in which Jewish students can create the type of Jewish life they wish to have here at Florida State. FSU Hillel helps students find a balance in being “distinctively jewish” and “universally human” by encouraging them to pursue “Tzedek” (social justice) by taking part in charities, repairing the world, learning and supporting Israel and the global jewish people”.