Falling in Love with Israel and Each Other at Rutgers Hillel
By Rabbi Scott Roland ’05 and Aviva Cohen Roland ’06
I don’t think that we can overemphasize the role that Rutgers Hillel and Israel Inspires played in our lives. After having met at a Rutgers Hillel Shabbat lunch and running against one another to fill an open position on the Hillel Leadership Council, our lives have been entwined with the institution that brought us together.
Israel Inspires was born during the spring semester of 2003. Student leaders committed to meeting over the summer in order to plan the various events that would make up the campaign. Scott received a phone call as he arrived at Rutgers Hillel one afternoon after working a full day at JCC Minicamp in West Orange, it was Aviva. Aviva was on a day off from working at Camp Yavneh in Northwood, New Hampshire. As it turns out, Scott had accidentally (or perhaps subconsciously) led Aviva to believe that he was asking her out during an AOL Instant Messenger conversation we had earlier in the week. Aviva wanted clarification. Scott entered Hillel that afternoon with a bounce in his step. That was the meeting where the name “Israel Inspires” was first coined. It was a huge step on the path to being in love with Israel, the Jewish community, and with each other.
That fall was when Rutgers Hillel became an exemplar for how to respond to anti-Israel activity on college campuses. Years later, as a campus liaison and Middle East Analyst, Aviva would still be asked to speak about Israel Inspires as a model for how her students should be proactive on their campuses. With the support of the Rutgers Hillel staff and the entire New Jersey Jewish community, we pulled off this amazing feat. What was truly remarkable is how the Hillel staff and partner agencies came together and gave their attention, time, money, and other resources to a small group of 18-22 year old students. The support screamed a loud message into the ears of the student leaders. Our passion was not misdirected. The fire that Israel kindled within each of us would be tended by the thousands who came out to support our efforts.
Among the student leaders who will be honored at Rutgers Hillel’s annual gala this year, there are current and former Hillel staff, Jewish Federation employees, advocacy professionals, rabbis, rebbetzins, and olim to the State of Israel. Each was nurtured thanks to the staff and supporters of Rutgers Hillel. Some of us found our inspiration within the Jewish community on campus. Some of us found much, much more!
Rutgers Hillel is proud to honor Scott, Aviva and the Israel Inspires Team ’04 at the Annual Gala on Tuesday, June 17th. Rutgers Hillel cultivates the next generation of Jewish leaders. The Israel Inspires Team ’04 is a true testament to that.