Community for Passionate and Creative Jews
By Kate Thomas ‘14

Kate Thomas

It all started with a cup of coffee. Last spring, Rutgers Hillel’s Reform Rabbi, Heath Watenmaker asked me to consider serving as one of the Peer Network Engagement Interns (PNEI) for the 2013-2014 year. Over a cup of coffee, a conversation developed into a plan. The PNEI position quickly expanded into something bigger. This year I began Hillel’s very first undergraduate social work internship.  I have combined the responsibilities of a PNEI and expanded my time and efforts to help Hillel’s mission of fostering rich Jewish experiences and communities at Rutgers. Working at Hillel, I’m actively building upon the skills of an effective social worker, peer engagement leader, and community organizer.

As a PNEI, I meet one-on-one with Jewish students, often grabbing a cup of coffee or lunch to get to know them better and to let them know that they have a friend within the Rutgers Jewish community. Building these interpersonal relationships with peers not only allows me to reach out to new students, but also to use my social work skills. Spending extra time in the Hillel building gives me an inside peek at the programs and events the Hillel staff is working on, and I was happy to assist students and staff organizing Hillel’s annual Days Without Hate.

My main focus, however, is building a Jewish Artist and Activist Community on campus. As a socially aware student involved in a variety of human rights clubs, I wanted to build a network for Jewish activists, students who are passionate about a cause or social issue. I’m also very involved with the arts, particularly theater and performance poetry, and wanted to help create a place for Jews with similar passions to explore intersecting interests and identities. In a lot of ways, I see the arts as a vehicle for making change. For me, being Jewish is a reminder of the importance of community-building and social action. The idea of tikkun olam is a driving force in the new Jewish Artist and Activist Community.

Hillel provides me with the space and opportunity to make this community happen. Because of Rutgers Hillel, I have an outlet to build a unique Jewish community that Rutgers has never seen before.The Jewish Artist and Activist Community is one that aligns with my own passions as well as the passions of other Jewish students on campus who otherwise might not have found a place to explore their Jewish identities.

All it took was an idea, a conversation, and a cup of coffee.

The Jewish Artist and Activist Community kicked off with a collaborative coffeehouse for Hillel’s Days Without Hate, then had their first community meet-and-greet. They’re hosting a unique Hanukkah celebration, the “Festival of Rights” on Tuesday, December 3rd in the NJC Lounge in the DCC on Douglass campus. It will bring a variety of student groups centered on human rights and performance art together for a fun, festive and collaborative celebration.  Click here to see the Festival of Rights flyer


Kate and PNEIs - free bagel brunch Sept 2013 - RESIZED for blogKate Thomas ’14 (right) with fellow PNEIs Simone Shopowich ’16, Riana Sarna ’15, Nicole Edi ’16 and Lindsay Steinbach ’14 at Free Bagel Brunch PNEI-run event in September 2013


Help other students like Kate continue to explore their passions and build Jewish community by organizing events focused towards students’ interests and by funding coffee conversations with Jewish students.

(All donations to the Reform Outreach Initiative at Rutgers Hillel will be matched dollar for dollar by Arthur and Betty Roswell.)

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