By Rabbi Adam Grossman
[The most recent article, “Move to the Apple Remote, Part 2: Why UF Hillel Exists,” outlined UF Hillel’s strategy to better impact and establish relevancy for students and communities. This piece illustrates how Birthright, Career Growth and Leadership Development will enhance student engagement with UF Hillel, empower students to transform Jewish communities post-college and find meaning through a Jewish lens.]
525,600 minutes, how do you measure a year? The line, from the song “Seasons of Love” in the Broadway show Rent asks, with this exact amount of minutes in a year, what are we going to do. When a student arrives on campus, the options to fill up this time, beyond coursework and sleep, are limitless. A new student at the University of Florida can connect with over 1,000 distinct student groups, including UF Hillel. With multiple events hosted daily from these student organizations, as well as the university and community organizations, distinguishing one’s organization is not easy. Combine this with Jewish engagement statistics from the Pew Study “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” which suggests at most 30% of Jews are affiliated with traditional Jewish organizations, more than 70% of the Jews are not familiar with, seeking out or connected to traditional Jewish institutions, like Hillel, when they come to campus.
If this trend continues, the vast majority of Jewish students will never be activated to participate in, sustain or grow Jewish communities during college or after graduation. In order to reverse this trend, UF Hillel built a model that leverages its assets so that it can enhance a student’s college experience, increase the number of students that connect with UF Hillel, identify the traditional and non-traditional leaders fundamental to Jewish communities well into the future and empower students to encourage the masses to engage with Jewish life. By connecting to Millennial needs and anchoring the experiences within Jewish living, UF Hillel repositioned itself as a space dedicated to Birthright, Career Growth and Leadership Development.
Birthright: The appeal of a free trip from Taglit-Birthright generally motivates a much more diverse Jewish participant pool to come to UF Hillel than on-campus Hillel events. Spending 10 days in Israel helps young Jews get in touch with their Jewish identity while building lasting relationships with their peers along the way. This experience can broaden our reach on campus, both in student participation and in the identification of potential leaders, more than any one Hillel event. Additionally, students that attend pre and post-Birthright experiences are more likely to live a more connected Jewish life than those that simply went on the trip. The Israel Campus Initiative (IACT) of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston has proved this model highly successful over the last eight years. After UF Hillel was chosen as an IACT expansion campus in the 2014/2015 school year, we sent 200 students to Israel, one of the highest student participations in the country. After students returned to Florida, we engaged over 82% of those students with at least three UF Hillel activities. With such successes in our first year, UF Hillel was selected as a BICEP (Birthright Israel Collaborative Enhancement Project) campus further enhancing Birthright journeys and post-engagement opportunities at UF Hillel. Moving forward, we seek to move from 200 to 400 participants per year over the next three years, which would double the amount of committed Jews and enable us to identify more empowered Jewish leaders to impact those on campus and beyond.
Career growth: Finding a job or support for entrepreneurial aspirations is the primary focus and driver of identity for students. Just as important, ensuring that quality talent becomes engaged with a community is a major factor in determining each Jewish community’s growth, sustainability and success. UF Hillel is fortunate to interact with some of the most talented students in the country. Based on the most recent US News & World Report college rankings, the University of Florida is recognized as the top university in the state of Florida and one of the top public schools in the Southeast. By becoming a bridge between the most motivated students, who seek to establish a career or become an entrepreneur, and companies as well as communities searching for some of the most dynamic graduates in the nation, UF Hillel strives to enhance students’ college experience, while at the same time, strengthening Jewish communities. By focusing through a Jewish lens, we are doing this in three distinct ways by 1) offering paths to employment through our UF Hillel Works initiative 2) restructuring UF Hillel’s internships to better prepare students for the professional world and 3) becoming a center for entrepreneurship, which began with a beta test of a socially responsible business accelerator known as HiveSpace.
Leadership Development: Everyday the UF Hillel team engages with students that will ultimately become the next CEOs, entrepreneurs, politicians, doctors and board presidents, who will lead communities around the state of Florida and across the globe. By focusing on preparing these leaders, we seek to provide each individual with the tools necessary to impact the world following their graduation. While leadership development, in many instances, is synonymous with seminars and workshops more than classroom training, UF Hillel has a different approach. We teach that leadership development happens when students practice the skills that make them more self-aware and, in turn, understand their personal potential. Embedded in Judaism’s rich tradition is a pathway to better appreciate the self in order to more fully impact others and the world. UF Hillel’s leadership development initiative seeks to incorporate a sense of balance into the entire spectrum of activities in one’s life, such as believing in faith and traditions, social action, physical activity, love of family and friends, intellectual stimulation and understanding work strengths, to name a few. Our goal is to help each person become a leader, enjoy individual success and inspire others by example. Therefore, by becoming self aware and tending to personal health, an individual is able to more fully able to connect to one’s Jewish self and to foster positive change in the world.
UF Hillel’s three “buttons” seeks to maximize the 525,600 minutes in order to enhance student engagement, sustain community growth and inspire Jewish living. By starting with Birthright, a free trip to Israel, as a recruitment and post-engagement tool, we can identify and develop the most driven and passionate leaders. Through career growth and leadership development initiatives, UF Hillel can situate itself as a relevant space for students seeking the next step in life, a place for students to find purpose through a Jewish lens and a recruitment center for the most talented and prepared students to lead tomorrow’s communities.
Rabbi Adam Grossman, who is a past Slingshot Guide Award recipient and member of Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders network, is the CEO of the University of Florida Hillel. Please feel free to connect with him on Facebook (rabbiadamgrossman) or Twitter (rabbiadam).