I participated in Hillel’s St. Louis Engagement Institute during the summer of 2012, and feel that it was life-changing. I have always been proud to be Jewish, but this conference made me appreciate Judaism on a whole new level. Whether it was the opportunity to decipher Rabbi Hillel's "If I am not for myself..." quote or the opportunity to speak with a homeless person, the conference was a safe space filled with the thirst for knowledge and exploration.
I met so many incredible students from all over the U.S. and Canada, and feel that I learned so much from simple interactions. I grew close with the students from Oklahoma, and I was deeply curious about how they differed as Jews in the South. Our days were filled with deep thought and strategizing, which continued even after the official programming concluded. Some of the best times were when I was laying on the hammocks by the dorms and conversing with other students from the opposite side of the country. They were going through the same experiences or difficulties as me, with similar yet differing Jewish journeys; this is a rare and magical event.
My life as a student before the conference was filled with shallow conversations. The conference gave a space and time for every student to be heard, to share and to converse about topics that we cannot discuss day to day. I have been so inspired since, that I have not only done my internship with Hillel, but have started a new pro-Israel group on my campus.
This trip gave me the tools and confidence to be seen and heard, and to proudly share my Jewish experience. I truly hope that the conference does not change, and if it must, it should only expand.
Danielle Karta is a junior at San Francisco State University, majoring in Mathematics with an emphasis on education. She was born in the United States, spent half of her life living in Israel, and now half in California.