A Home Away from Home: Reflections on Four Years with Rutgers Hillel

By Michael Guggenheim ’16


Michael Guggenheim Edited Stadium

Michael Guggenheim ’16 at Graduation with Chaim Gartenberg ’16

For many people, college can be a time of extreme change. People both discover and lose interest in their passions, make friends from all different walks of life, and broaden their horizons. The experience for Rutgers students is no different. If anything, it’s even more amplified by Rutgers’ large student body and deep cultural roots. It can be, to put it lightly, terrifying for freshman to deal with this reality as they come to campus for the first time, entering a world that is so unlike their high school environments.


While acclimating to this completely new setting, it can be quite easy for students feel lost or lonely. Some students, however, are lucky. Some students have Hillel.


From my very first day at Rutgers, I knew I would always be welcome at Hillel. Being a part of the Hillel community was integral to me being able to succeed as a college student. No matter what challenges I faced, I knew that I had a community that would support me.


Michael Guggenheim with friends

Michael Guggenheim ’16 (far right) with friends from Hillel

Hillel soon became a part of my routine. For four years, you could find me at Hillel Shabbat dinner almost every Friday night, and at several events hosted at Hillel (and their wonderful menagerie of changing locations while the new building was slowly constructed) throughout the week. Hillel was where I made many of my closest friends at Rutgers, and where I had many of my most formative college experiences. This feeling wasn’t unique; countless people come through Hillel’s doors every year, finding their own personal niche in the Rutgers Jewish community.


There’s something incredibly special about seeing such a large, diverse community come together, week after week, to eat, mingle, and spend time together. But Hillel goes far beyond that – because what Hillel provides is not just wonderful events, Shabbat meals, and a place to make friends (although all of those were integral aspects of my college career). Hillel has been the source of invaluable guidance, community building, and, at least for me, personal growth. It is not an exaggeration to say that I would not be the person I am today without all of the amazing opportunities that were afforded to me and the rest of the Jewish community at Rutgers through Hillel.


As I went on my journey at Rutgers through freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years, my involvement with Hillel had its ebbs and flows, which is natural for any college student, many of whom have overpacked schedules. One thing that never changed, though, was my sense of belonging to a community – from my first day until my last day at Rutgers, I knew that I always had a home at Hillel.


Michael Guggenheim Graduation-cropped

Graduation day! From left, Laura Leichtman ’16, Sarah Harpaz ’16, Michael Guggenheim ’16, Gavi Dov Hochsztein ’16, Chaim Gartenberg ’16

During my last year at Rutgers, I was privileged to sere  as Treasurer on our Student Board. Doing so gave me renewed admiration for the people working tirelessly to enable everything that Hillel does, from the professional staff to student leaders to the many people and organizations who generously support Hillel. For me, being a part of Board was about paying down an enormous debt that I owed. From my first moment at Rutgers, the Hillel community was there for me, guiding me through some of the most difficult moments of my time at college. I could not be prouder of the fact that I was able to play a small part in leading the Rutgers Hillel community, and helping to ensure that it will be there for the next cadre of students who will be living “On the Banks” for the first time this fall. I’m sure that plenty of them, like me, might feel a bit lost when they first walk down College Avenue. But they don’t need to worry – because they’ll have the Rutgers Hillel community ready to welcome them as a home away from home.


Michael Guggenheim, class of 2016, majored in political science and minored in Modern Hebrew Language, and served as Treasurer on the Hillel Student Board for the 2015-2016 academic year.