THE OVERALL IMPORTANCE of Hillel become evident when we consider that Jewish life on a college campus is becoming increasingly multifaceted and dynamic. Jewish college students are constantly trying to figure out how to fit their Jewish identity into their busy lives as students and newly fledged adults. Inevitably, during this foundational and exciting point of their young careers, Jewish students are exploring and beginning to ask fundamental questions in regards to their Judaism.
How do we balance a devotion for Jewish tradition while simultaneously embracing modernity and all it has to offer? How can we enter the Israel debate on campus in an informed, thoughtful, but also a caring way? And even: what parts of Judaism or the Jewish community speaks to me, and what parts need fixing?
Hillel is an organization that has long helped guide and empower Jewish students in their search for answers to these difficult and important questions. We understand that often the answers to these questions will come to define a student’s connection to the Jewish community post-graduation. Furthermore, at the Hillel Foundation of Orange County we know that there are often many different answers and approaches to the same question. It is for this reason that our Hillel staff, while small, is extremely diverse and passionate. Between our four current staff members, we have degrees in education, comparative religion, history, engineering, and psychology. Additionally, we are not only from completely different educational backgrounds, but different denominational backgrounds as well. Having staff members from Orthodox, Traditional, and Reform backgrounds allows us to nearly cover the playing ground of modern American Judaism.
It is more important now than ever before to have a true pluralistic approach to Jewish life on our college campuses. During this time of intense political, social, and religious polarization we believe that Hillel can be and often is a true model of pluralistic coexistence. While this pluralism may begin with the staff, it by no means ends there. Our students come to campus with a multiplicity of worldviews when it comes to their Judaism and the world at large, coming from every type of Jewish community imaginable. We have students that arrive with views on Israel and Zionism that range the entire gamut of American Jewish opinion and experience. Furthermore, our students are involved in diverse political and social groups on campus, spreading the social and political spectrum.
And yet, every Friday night we all come together as a community to bring in Shabbat together – as one big community. And multiple times a week we have a variety of other events that attract a wide and diverse array of students. This is what Hillel is all about. At Hillel we strive to create as open as an environment as possible, while simultaneously trying to challenge our students and expose them to new ideas. We recognize the importance of this vision and work tirelessly to make it happen. We understand that being a Jewish professional is not a routine 9-5 job, rather it is a life mission that is crucial for the continuity of the Jewish future.
At the end of the day, when students graduate, we hope that their time spent at Hillel will not only remain as a good memory, but be a catalyst for future action and involvement in the Jewish community. This is not only a part of our mission here at OC Hillel, but also our guarantee.
Moshe Daniel Levine is the Director of Jewish Student Life for Orange County Hillel. He holds a Master’s degree in Jewish History from UCLA along with a Rabbinical Degree from Yeshivat Pirchei Shoshanim