MIT Hillel has been recognized once again at the Hillel International Global Assembly, which was held in Denver Dec. 4-7. Fresh off their previous award the year prior for strengthening the global Hillel movement, MIT Hillel took home another honor — the Phillip H. and Susan Rudd Cohen Outstanding Campus Award, putting them in the top two Hillels in the movement.
“It was a really exciting conference,” says Rabbi Michelle Fisher, executive director of MIT Hillel. “This was the first time that International Hillel said, ‘We’re not bringing in some main speaker, and we’re going to use all the talent that we have in the field. ... All the sessions are going to be led and hopefully co-led by people throughout the movement.”
Every member of MIT Hillel staff present at the assembly taught a seminar. Fisher says that it was the perfect scenario for growth across the board. “We were being honored on day one for being outstanding, and we were then showing the pieces of our success and teaching them outward to everyone else. ... All of this is our gift to the field.”
The Outstanding Campus Award recognizes Hillels that engage 70 percent of Jewish undergraduates at least once. MIT Hillel has surpassed that benchmark, says Fisher. “We know over 80 percent of our undergraduates by name and story. So it’s not just their email and we’ve invited them to something. ... We’ve had a one-on-one conversation.”
MIT Hillel’s success is hard-earned. MIT students have lots of interests and heavy workloads so “helping students (A) desire and (B) make the time to be involved in furthering their Jewish identity” is a constant struggle, says Fisher.
MIT Hillel’s response is to combat students’ busy schedules with a mix of consistency, community, and low-commitment activities. One such offering is their weekly Shabbat dinners. Students can stop by Friday evenings to spend time with other Jewish students and are encouraged to bring friends, regardless of their beliefs. Students only need to “take a break for a couple hours on Friday night to come to a Shabbat dinner and say, ‘For two hours I’m not working on this p-set and I’m going to see my friends and have a little bit of community.’ That’s a Jewish message and it’s a self-care message,” says Fisher.
MIT Hillel also supports Do it Yourself events where students can, for example, host their own Shabbat dinner with friends outside the “capital H Hillel community” that Director of Birthright and Israel Engagement Shoshana Gibbor says students can find daunting.
“We’re just trying to create and sustain Jewish life across campus for students and help them curate programming that is exciting for them and meaningful for them,” says Gibbor. “We’re always trying to make sure that at base level it has a community-building functionality, that the students who are running these programs have support and leadership skills that they can walk away with, and that there’s some sort of educational content so that they can explain what they’re doing through a Jewish lens.”
Gibbor believes that working closely with students fosters the sense of community that’s needed to keep them coming back: “I love having conversations with students, just check-ins about life and their semester and what they did during their externship over IAP. ... Then two or three weeks later I might read an article related to some crazy thing that they did, and I’ll bring it up to them, and a week after that they might decide to come to Shabbat dinner because I invited them to come and hang out with me and tell me more about this cool work that they did.”
Fisher says MIT Hillel owes all of its success to its team and the students it serves. “I’m thrilled with what the staff’s been able to do and what we’ve been able to do. That our students feel that Hillel is part of their MIT experience is just great.”