Rutgers Hillel Leadership Training Day
By Max DuBoff, Class of 2019
I’m Max DuBoff, and I’m incredibly excited to serve as Koach/Conservative Community Co-Chair for 2016-2017. I’ve had plenty of experience with Jewish organizations over the past few years, but this is my first year on the Rutgers Hillel Student Board, and so the Leadership Training Day on May 4 provided a fitting and useful introduction to my general role as a board member on top of the specific planning duties of my position. The whole board—all 19 of us—came together shortly before finals for one of the last events at our current Hillel building at 9 Bartlett Street – four and a half hours of bonding, brainstorming, learning, and planning.
The day began with breakfast as the group filtered in. Although, as active members of Hillel, we all know each other, it was still nice to have some time to informally chat with the other board members while noshing on bagels (this was a Jewish gathering, after all). The program officially began soon enough with icebreakers led by Rutgers Hillel staff member Liel Zahavi-Asa. The various activities helped us understand each other more as people, ultimately allowing us to work together and communicate more effectively. They spanned the spectrum from silly to serious, but all promoted a sense of inclusion and cooperation. My personal favorite was the final activity, which involved building towers out of raw spaghetti, tape, and rope in small groups. That challenge definitely forced us to identify different group members’ strengths and divide tasks accordingly, and it also rewarded creative approaches. Overall, the icebreakers got us laughing and comfortable with each other.
Rutgers Hillel Senior Associate Director Rabbi Esther Reed then took over to initiate a very important conversation about our mission and ground rules. She asked us to talk about why we’re on board and what we hope to achieve, inviting us to share our responses with the group, but also providing a topic for further thought in the coming days and weeks. The simple question helped me clarify my own aims as Koach Co-Chair and as a representative of Hillel as well as how I plan to achieve them. I admit I hadn’t fully devoted my attention to those questions before because of the elections and then classes and whatnot, so I was quite grateful that Rabbi Reed focused the group on these kinds of issues. Further, she mentioned some of the virtues that will help us accomplish our missions. In particular, a group as large as ours cannot thrive without mutual respect, and she made that fact quite clear. I don’t for an instant think anyone on this year’s board would try to hurt another member, but it’s always good to have established norms that everyone can follow and understand.
Building on the talk of goals, Sami Brandspiegel, our Student Board President, asked us to write letters to our future selves to hopefully brighten our outlooks a bit if things start seeming rough. We’ll all inevitably experience moments where we question our impact as board members, and who better to provide pick-me-ups for us than ourselves? The exercise seemed a bit silly at first, but the more I’ve thought about it the more ingenious it seems. Knowing my own tastes quite well, I wrote mine in heroic couplets, and I can’t wait to good-naturedly laugh at myself sometime next winter as I ponder all I’ve done for the Koach community.
After we took 15 minutes or so to write, Rutgers Hillel staff member Greg Yellin prompted us to think deeply about recruiting by asking us to make webs of our connections to various social circles – from Rutgers, back home, and everywhere in between. I found the task surprisingly informative because I kept thinking of more groups to add even when I thought I had put down all possibly relevant ones. The whole activity was most useful in motivating me to think about how I could more effectively spread the word about not only Hillel but also other groups with which I’m involved. In particular, it showed me the power of helping other people form connections, which in turn benefit us all. Although I unfortunately tend to think of publicity as a one-sided endeavor, in reality it’s anything but, as Greg keenly showed.
We munched on some snacks and chatted for a few minutes after completing the webs, and then Sami spoke about procedural matters applicable to both new board members and multi-year veterans. In particular, she thoroughly described the revamped process whereby we’ll set the agenda for board meetings, which should allow the meetings to run smoothly and give everyone a chance to speak amply about recent and future developments pertaining to their respective positions. The system seems straightforward yet quite effective. She also initiated a discussion about how we as a board will communicate with each other and with her, taking the pulse of the room in regards to how much we use various communication methods and how she can most effectively disseminate key information when we’re not at board meetings. We soon reached a consensus about modes of communication and moved on to timing for board meetings, about which we also soon reached a consensus. The perhaps mundane but absolutely essential administrative portion ended with a segment on board etiquette and extraneous responsibilities. Sami then showed the new board members how to use the online calendar. I considered that last part most important because the calendar on the Hillel website acts as a one-stop resource about all of our events and programming. I’ve often referred to the calendar when I wasn’t sure about a time or couldn’t remember when an event was, and I’m sure others do as well, so I was glad to find out how to create events on there and thus help the Hillel community.
Equipped with fuller knowledge of how the board runs, we proceeded to eat lunch. A calendar is no use without events planned, however, and so we worked while eating on the pinnacle of the entire Leadership Day: compiling the fall calendar. It was a massive undertaking, but fortunately we were running early and thus had plenty of time. The process was a bit chaotic, as various chairs tried to schedule their events and negotiate changes amongst each other and with Sami. The scene reminded me of a Model UN committee: Sami acted as chair, calling on people to submit dates for their various planned events. When it seemed that two people intended to host overly similar events in the same week, they briefly chatted with each other and one agreed to swap their event to another time. Sami deftly kept order and moved methodically from month to month. First, we collectively filled in the initial two weeks—I’ll note right now that we have lots of fantastic programming to welcome everyone back in September!—before moving on to the rest of the semester. Ultimately, it all worked. We managed to avoid direct competition between events and even left with universally satisfactory conclusions about tough scheduling issues like Sukkot, which has very few intermediate days next fall during which people can use the sukkah for events. The calendar is now on the Hillel website and looks beautiful.
The new building will certainly be a happening place next year, as this Hillel Student Board plans and runs programming that will surely prove fun for all. I’m definitely looking forward to the impressive mix of new events and old favorites. This first Leadership Day was a huge step forward for the board and proved to be quite productive. Sami and the staff who led various parts of it deserve the utmost kudos. I certainly feel far more prepared and ready to assume my role now than I did before. Summer is nice, but I know fall at Hillel will be way better!