This is the third in a series of blog posts by Hillel professionals, sharing why they love what they do.
Pictured: Jonathan Eisen (top left) with University of Wisconsin students on Taglit-Birthright Israel
After graduating from the University of Kansas (KU) in 2010, I spent nine months learning about leadership and organizational/community change through the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs. Coro allowed me to experience different professional sectors throughout my hometown of St. Louis. I was able to learn about the challenges that the community faced, and how, through partnerships, non-profits, businesses, government agencies, etc. are working for change.
Toward the end of the Coro experience, I explored jobs in social justice and politics. However, all along I felt that Hillel would be my best fit. I saw my strongest skills in the areas of networking, facilitating groups and planning programs. I am outgoing and enjoy meeting new people and, most importantly, connecting people with one another. I appreciate small group dynamics and ways to engage others in decision making. I have also always enjoyed the college campus environment.
As a former Hillel student leader, I reflected on my experience and the relationships that I had with the staff at KU Hillel. They provided opportunities for me to follow my passions and to experience and practice leadership. Ultimately, I was able to create my own identity as a Jewish student and a connected leader on campus. Through my experiences, I realized that the relationship between staff and students is core to Hillel’s mission. As I looked for Hillel jobs, I searched for positions where I could live my own values and commitments to Jewish life. I wanted to provide students, just a few years younger than myself, with experiences where they would feel valued and, in return, find value from getting involved.
I have now been working at the University of Wisconsin Hillel in Madison for 18 months. As the Director of Programming and Engagement, I work with students from diverse backgrounds, interests and experiences. Some confidently walk in to Hillel knowing this is where they want to dedicate their time, while others view Hillel as just one of their many choices for involvement during the college years. Some went to day school, Jewish camps and/or spent time in Israel, while others are exploring Jewish life for the first time.
The most fulfilling part of my job is helping students create their own experiences and enjoy the results of their work. There is nothing more satisfying as a young professional than helping students build their own collaborative teams and see initial ideas turned into successful programs. For example, the Freshman Leadership Experience (FLEX) involved over 30 freshmen for monthly learning around Judaism and leadership. The UW Challah for Hunger chapter will raise close to $10,000 in two years at the end of this semester, and is averaging 20 student volunteers a week. Jewop Acapella is performing 15-20 shows a semester, and the Hillel basketball league has become a favorite for Jewish students on campus. The Hillel leadership teams and student-run programs are our vehicles for engagement. Yet, connecting individually to support each student’s leadership is what confirms for me that Hillel is a great place to work and a crucial organization for the future of our Jewish communities.
Jonathan Eisen is in his second year as Director of Programming and Engagement at University of Wisconsin Hillel. A St. Louis native, he is a proud alum of the University of Kansas, and loves KU basketball.