A year and a half ago, I finished my term as the Israel Fellow for Hillel at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illini Hillel) and moved back to my home town, Tel Aviv. Being at Hillel was an incredible time for me, having not only grown professionally, but also having met my wife through the Jewish community on campus. I never imagined that a year later I’d be back working in Champaign-Urbana, only this time as Illini Hillel’s Executive Director. It feels like returning home for a second time.
As the very first Hillel in the world, we are celebrating our 90th anniversary this year. One might say our greatest success has always been making Jewish life accessible to all students on campus, truly meeting them where they are in their personal, professional and Jewish journeys. This can be seen by our extensive programming at the Jewish Greek Houses as well as in dorms, on the quad and even at the recreational centers, but also on a philosophical level, by letting our students take true ownership of their Jewish journeys. Student leadership at Illini Hillel connects and inspires participants to be actively involved in shaping their Jewish identity based on their own passions and motivations. Our Jewish communal landscape on campus is peppered with Jewish environmental projects, pro-Israel groups, Jewish learning and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) projects - it’s all here.
One new and exciting example of such an initiative is Hire U. Initiated, organized and run by Jewish students, Hire U was created to provide vital professional development tools for college students. Achieving gainful employment in today's economy is harder than ever for recent college grads, and this group offers programming that will help students acquire the additional edge and build essential networks to be successful in their job searches.
With the strong support of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and Hillel’s professional staff, Hire U is bringing Jewish leaders and their success stories from a variety of professions to inspire and inform students in their own quest for career satisfaction. Additionally, the group hosts career development workshops that include: resume building, interviewing skills, networking through social media and more. The student leaders are teamed with mentors who engage them about their professional, personal and Jewish journeys. The initiative, as our students see it, is providing the missing link in engaging their Jewish identity in professional settings.
Hire U’s first event will bring a prominent Jewish lay leader, who is also a Managing Director of JPMorgan Securities, to speak to over 150 students on October 10, 2013. President of Hillel International, Eric Fingerhut, will be present at the event to introduce both the initiative and the speaker to the students. It is these types of initiatives that make Illini Hillel a success. By being a hub for creativity and entrepreneurship, we allow our students to experiment in connecting their Jewish identities with everyday life. I’m so glad to be home with Hillel, and I look forward to seeing where this year takes us.
Erez Cohen is the executive director of the Hillel at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was Born and raised in Tel Aviv and has a BA in Political Science and is finishing his MA in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University. His professional experience includes working in a community center in Tel Aviv, volunteering as a Project Manager in East Africa, serving as the Israel Fellow at Illini Hillel and fundraising for the Jaffa Institute.