Organization: Newberger Hillel at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Grant Year: 2007
Project Director: Mr. Daniel Libenson
Type of Grant: Signature
Grant Amount: $150,000 (3 years)
To pilot a new decentralized approach to Jewish engagement and education on campus that is based on small groups facilitated by artists and scholars who are topic-area specialists and not regular Hillel staff. From 2008-11, a total of six such groups convened, covering the following topics: food and gender; poetry and creative writing; music and music production; yoga; cooking and improv comedy; and social justice and service. Each group integrated discussion of Jewish topics into the group activities. This approach is intended to offer Jewish students entry points into the Jewish community through their most significant interests. In addition, by connecting students with non-Hillel adults, the program provides the students an authentic segue to their Jewish adult life. The pilot was the first part of a larger effort aimed at motivating and enabling post-college Jewish specialists to seek out and contribute their creativity and energy to Jewish communal life.
The program, open to all students at the University of Chicago, primarily targeted the 800-850 Jewish undergraduate students, whether or not they were already engaged with Hillel. results/impact . This grant, requiring outreach beyond Hillel’s most engaged students, motivated Hillel to experiment with new recruitment methodologies. These methodologies included the following: working with the Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative, a Hillel-affiliated organization that employs a one-on-one engagement approach; making use of an internal referral mechanism targeting Birthright alumni; and identifying potential participants via a Hillel database for tracking student involvement. . Although initially envisioned as single year-long small group experiences, the yoga-oriented small group that began in 2009-10 grew in popularity and continued for two additional years, one year beyond the end of the Signature Grant period. It had regular weekly attendance of a core group of 25 students, as well as sporadic involvement of approximately 15 additional students; students provided positive feedback on the experience. Despite Hillel’s best efforts, the number of students reached through the initiative was disappointing. From The Covenant Foundation’s perspective, the results were not commensurate with the grant size.
The program was discontinued at the Newberger Hillel within a year after the grant ended. According to Anna Levin-Rosen, Director of Jewish Life, like many other Hillels, Newberger Hillel continues to encourage students to gather together around their unique areas of interest. However, programs are rarely led by adjunct educators; they are difficult to find and recruit both because of the time commitment required and the need to have the ability and skills to cultivate Jewish identity. In fact, just one artist-educator, the yoga instructor, with significant background in Jewish education, truly thrived in the role. Although the Hillel still offers a yoga class for Jewish students, it is now led by a student and does not have Jewish content. Levin-Rosen says that the program did increase awareness of the importance of integrating staff talents and passions into programming, in order to enable adult mentoring and build relationships between students and staff members. For example, a staff member with experience in philanthropy will facilitate a group around charitable giving, and the Hillel’s program director, who has a theater background, is actively looking for ways to engage students who share her interests.