This last year was a challenging one, to say the least. For an organization whose core strategy is predicated on building strong relationships and communities, a year of virtual programming and isolation could have been an insurmountable obstacle.
I am proud to say that our staff and student leaders demonstrated incredible creativity and resiliency and rose to the challenge to provide meaningful Jewish life and connection during this uncertain time.
This past year-and-a-half have required us to think differently and pivot quickly on a number of occasions. The pandemic affected our program in almost every way. Each student-favorite social program, holiday celebration, learning initiative, and leadership opportunity was reworked to prioritize student and staff safety.
Responding to the heightened feelings of isolation and concerns about mental health, our team successfully introduced new ideas and initiatives designed to promote student wellness and community building even while socially distant. These new programs included the mentorship program “Chutzpals,” the Kosher Shabbat meal kit “HillelFresh,” the extra-curricular small group learning and community-building initiatives called “Hoogim,” and the Hillel Jewish Leadership Institute, a training program for first year students as we work to establish a student leadership pipeline and a sense of belonging in isolated first year students.
One of the key reasons I believe we were able to meet the challenge of this moment was because we were clear about our values, objectives, and core strategies. Our core values and priorities are belonging, learning, and growth.
With belonging, our goal is for students to feel truly at home in Jewish community, where they can be their authentic selves, learn to balance their personal needs with the needs of a community, and feel comfortable to explore new ideas and practices. Learning is about rigorous engagement with Jewish history, texts, and ideas, developing an informed Jewish identity, and exploring where they fit within the larger Jewish peoplehood and narrative.
Finally, growth is both about empowerment, students taking ownership of their Judaism, and providing support to students during this crucial time of identity formation.
The pandemic challenged Hillel as an organization in many different ways, but it also helped us to rededicate ourselves to our mission and core values. We had to think in new and creative ways about how to best fulfill our mission in a very different and ever-changing context. And as we plan to reopen fully and welcome students back to Grounds, the time we spent this last year will continue to give us clarity of purpose and guide us.
Rabbi Jake Rubin has served as the Executive Director of the Brody Jewish Center at the University of Virginia since 2009. During his tenure, he has served as the President of the United Ministries at UVa, a coach for new Hillel directors, and a member of the Executive Committee of Hillel International’s Board of Directors as well as the Chair of Hillel International’s Directors Cabinet. He was awarded the Cohen Fellowship as well as the Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence award for his contributions to the Hillel movement.
Originally from Richmond, Rabbi Rubin holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia. In 2009, he received his rabbinic ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, from which he also graduated with a Master’s of Arts in Hebrew Letters.
He can be reached at email@example.com.