Three years ago, the idea of a Hillel at John Carroll University sounded preposterous. “Hillel at a Catholic School? Really?” That was the headline in the Cleveland Jewish News when they first caught wind of the scheme.
Today, I’m proud to answer that question with a resounding: Really. John Carroll, located in University Heights, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland) has long been known as a Jesuit university, a sect of progressive yet devout Catholics. I was initially uncertain of how my efforts would be received by the school—but my uncertainty was quickly transformed into optimism for the future, as the new student organization was embraced wholeheartedly by the university from the moment it was started, just over two years ago.
Support from the Cleveland Hillel Foundation has been equally enthusiastic. The staff was skeptical at first that a new branch would be viable at a Catholic institution, as our first event, “Schmooze with the Jews,” held in the fall of 2012, saw limited student participation. However, as time went on, and our events started to garner ever-increasing interest around campus, any skepticism gave way to the infectious can-do attitude that Jewish and non-Jewish students alike who participated in our early events felt.
John Carroll Hillel has since blossomed into a significant part of student life on campus, even to the point where I've been recognized by students I've never met before, who are interested in learning more about us and our events. Our most recent event celebrating Sukkot, which we termed “What the Hut!?”, saw a week of events that included a Sukkah dance party, tea in the Sukkah, Pizza in the Hut, Fall food night, cupcake night, and an appearance by famous actor BJ Novak (pictured, center), as well as an educational opportunity for religious studies students to help construct the Sukkah, and learn about its significance.
Of particular assistance to me this year has been Cleveland Hillel’s Israel Fellow for this academic year, Guy Cohen (pictured, left). Guy has been tremendously helpful in helping me plan and run my events, as well as in bringing an Israeli perspective to our organization. His support, as well as that from the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, the John Carroll University community, and my friends and classmates who have attended and help me plan our events, have allowed John Carroll Hillel to flourish into the vibrant student organization that it is today.
David Markovich (pictured, right) is the student president of Hillel at John Carroll University.