Why is Hillel Important to Me?

By Rabbi Esther Reed

Rabbi reed

Rabbi Esther Reed between two student leaders

I think that the dilemma of how to live as a diaspora Jew is something we grapple with every day.  As adults, we don’t realize it, because it has become routine–we are so used to it that we don’t realize it. But for young people, it is a struggle, as they make decisions on their own.  Each day they are navigating being a Jew in a non-Jewish world.

 When it comes to Jewish issues on college campuses, this is THE issue: How to navigate being a Jew in a non-Jewish world.  Before college, most students are living at home, following their parents rules about what Shabbat and holidays mean in their lives, whether to volunteer, and whether to keep kosher, and how to live a moral life.

 But once on the campus, students have the freedom to choose–or not choose–the path their parents would have guided them on. I happen to work for an organization that helps students make those Jewish choices.

 Hillel is an organization devoted to bringing Jewish life to campus.  Our method is to utilize students as leaders.  I, as a rabbi, don’t lead Shabbat services each week. Students do.  I don’t plan to bring in speakers and determine which programming will work. Students do.  I support and help students in making those Jewish choices in their lives.

 In making Jewish choices, we are relying on an assumption that I want to articulate: The Rutgers Hillel staff believes that being Jewish is meaningful and important, and that the Jewish People make the world a better place.

 Rutgers Hillel is driven by a core belief that a strong, healthy Jewish identity is the right of every Jew. We connect young Jews to that right.

 Hillel’s goal is for every Jewish student to love being Jewish and to love being part of the Jewish People. To get students to love being Jewish means we must have multiple entry points: Shabbat dinners, trips to Israel, community service, Jewish learning, social events, religious activities, and more.  These reflect the spectrum of Jewish values and potential Jewish journeys of every individual student.  And any student who loves being Jewish and loves being part of the Jewish people is going to want more, to do more, to be a part of more.

Hillel makes the world a better place by strengthening the Jewish People. The University campus just happens to be the ideal location for doing that, since college students are determining what choices to make in their lives.  The choices they make while in college will impact their entire future.  That is why Hillel is important to me.