College administrators, Jewish community leaders, and Jewish families certainly agree on one thing: it makes a big difference when people work together to ascertain that Jewish students get the most out of their college experience. Regardless of what other students are doing, organizations such as Hillel provide a safe, welcoming haven for Jewish students. Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, provides opportunities for Jewish students at more than 500 colleges and universities to explore and celebrate their Jewish identity.
Not only is Hillel alive and well in Orange County, but there is even a program to help student leaders with programming and promotion. The program, which will be held on August 29 at Chapman University, is being led by Rabbi Drew Kaplan, the rabbi for Southern California Jewish Student Services (SoCalJSS for short), working with Hillels in the area.
Rabbi Kaplan serves as the rabbi for Long Beach Hillel, is the only professional staff person working with the CSU-Fullerton Hillel group, and also works with the Orange County Hillel, Orange Coast College Hillel, and Inland Empire and Desert Hillel, largely serving as somewhat of an “adjunct rabbi,” coming in to teach classes and serving as a resource, but not a staff member. The primary benefactors of SoCalJSS are Deanna and Allen Alevy of Long Beach, who “want to see to it that there is a rabbi available for college students and young adults to help assist in forming a positive Jewish identity at their age,” Rabbi Kaplan said. His main mission, he said, is to spread a love of the Jewish tradition, “which will ultimately spread a love of the Jews.”
The August 29 area Hillel Programming Seminar is being organized by SoCalJSS (Rabbi Kaplan) in collaboration with the Hillels in the area (Orange County, Inland Empire and Desert, Orange Coast College, Cal State Long Beach, and Cal State Fullerton) “to work on developing appropriate strategies in programming in the next year to build and grow Jewish life for these students on their individual campuses,” Rabbi Kaplan explained. “It will also serve to help them better understand what Hillel does and their own identities as young Jewish leaders on campus. It is designed for either elected board members to the respective Hillel groups and/or aspiring leaders. It will be simple, efficient, and meaningful for elected officers and people who want to become future Hillel leaders.”
In September, at a time and place to be determined, Rabbi Kaplan will organize another event for Jewish college students in the area. The Israel roundtable will be an opportunity for students interested in hasbarah for Israel to work together in formulating ways in dealing with the issue on campuses in the area and is open to all interested Jewish students. It will train these students to be effective pro-Israel activists on their campuses.
Jewish students in Orange County and the surrounding areas will be prepared to enjoy campus life, have meaningful Jewish experiences, and engage in dialogue with anyone who cares to do so. These students will be backed by a supportive network of community leaders who will help them to create a strong and committed Jewish presence on campus.