This is the eighth in a series of blog posts by Hillel professionals, sharing why they love what they do.
Pictured: University of Maryland mascot, Testudo, with the author.
After a year of intensive work at the University of Maryland Hillel, I can say that never in my life have I worked with such creative, energetic, thoughtful and inclusive coworkers as my fellow staff members at the Rosenbloom Hillel Center at the University of Maryland. Our vision - Live, Explore, Connect, Give - outlines what makes this place great.
Cogito Ergo Sum (I think, therefore I am), said Descartes. And according to my 93 year-old grandmother, Edo Ergo Sum (I eat, therefore I am). Food is an expression of love, anger, joy and sadness. Therefore, according to grandma, the details of my work are irrelevant - where do I live, with how many students I work on a daily basis, etc. Am I reaching out? Engaging? Great, as long as I do it over a piece of cake. And if I’m gaining weight - even better. So you tell me: is there’s a better place to work than RHC@UMD, which serves 3 kosher meals daily? L’chaim, Savta. (To life, Grandma.)
Not one college movie (yes, I watch them all; no one’s perfect) prepared me for the real thing - word to the wise. But seriously - it seems that a reason for such a difference between Israeli students and American students has to do with the fact that the life of the latters is college-centered. They live, work, make friends and eat all in one place. In a way, Hillel is a greenhouse, enabling students to be expressive and creative within a broad and complex Jewish spectrum. Everything is legitimate - this is the time and place to try, learn and err. I find myself enthused by our students’ creativity and energy, and am thankful for the opportunity I have to add the Israeli component to the vibrant Jewish discourse.
Get out of the comfort zone; engage, share, and inspire. I’m not talking only about daily work. I’m talking about my support group of Israel Fellows, the network which can make me laugh out loud just from one weird text message, and which reminds me every single day of why am I here.
My mom always said that I should pack light. Since she tends to be right (though I don’t tend to be wrong), I packed “light-ish” when I left Israel, and used only 7 of the 7 boxes we were given for our belongings. One of the boxes was filled with flags, maps, flyers, buttons, bookmarkers, calendars and other Israel memorabilia. To my great surprise, I found out that I don’t actually need any of these giveaways, and sometimes even a cup of coffee is needless - a spontaneous conversation or just remembering a detail someone mentioned about their family is enough to create wonders. Moreover, my personal connection with students helps me sharpen my Jewish Israeli identity, and define better the connection between Israel and the diaspora.
So, at the end of the day, I’m not sure who will benefit more: me or the students. Yael Gertel is the Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow at the Rosenbloom Hillel Center at the University of Maryland.