By Rabbi David Singer
Originally posted in the San Diego Jewish Journal
College students have nearly finished another session and the buzz of Jewish student life at UC San Diego has been going strong since day one.
Many worry, I know, about the state of affairs on college campuses these days. And there is much well-intentioned angst as well about the future of our people, and whether young Jews today care to do Jewish like their parents and grandparents once did.
But fear often distorts reality. UC San Diego is no war zone. Jewish life is not threatened. Here, Jewish students thrive. And, at every turn in students’ growth through college, Hillel is here to nurture them. We aim to inspire every Jewish student to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. And, at that, Hillel is succeeding.
Last year, more than 50 percent of Jewish undergraduate students at UC San Diego participated in Hillel programs and initiatives. We built community around the Shabbat dinner table, through holiday religious services and learning, via Israel education, advocacy and travel opportunities, leadership development, the arts and more. We have cultivated community that embodies an ethos of radical hospitality, infinitely welcoming to anyone interested in walking through our doors, no matter their background.
More than 1,000 non-Jewish undergraduate students were involved in our events too, because we believe that no Jewish student should have to choose between their roommate and a holiday celebration, between their best friend and advocating for Israel. The more we position Jewish community as the most inclusive opportunity on campus for our students, the more that Jewish life flourishes.
UC San Diego Hillel is not alone. Across town at San Diego State University, under the expert leadership of my colleague Jackie Tolley, the Melvin Garb Center is now celebrating its third year as a home away from home for hundreds of students. Operations are growing at Cal State San Marcos and the University of San Diego as we celebrate four Hillels within San Diego county, together engaging thousands of students each year in building vibrant Jewish life.
These are our accomplishments, meaningful steps in growing a vibrant future for the Jewish future. Yet our dreams remain ever larger.
The late Shimon Peres, z”l, famously remarked that so long as his list of dreams was longer than his list of accomplishments, he was young. In this respect, Hillel is still young. Our accomplishments make us proud, but our list of dreams of where we can still go is greater.
At UC San Diego we have developed a cutting edge leadership incubator that invests in Jewish students from across the fabric of the campus community and empowers them as catalysts of change. In the next few years, we will engage more than 100 promising leaders in the platform, opening up myriad opportunities for innovation on campus and beyond. We are utilizing Design Thinking methodology to imagine transformative experiences for the hundreds of students we serve and inspire them to live their lives as activated Jews. We are proud to engage 50 percent of Jewish undergraduates in the community we build, but aim ever-higher at 100 percent. We excitedly near the realization of our long-held dream of finally building the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center at the gateway to La Jolla.
We still have so much more we look forward to doing. The year ahead is filled with opportunity and potential to engage hundreds more Jewish students in the community we build, as we help every student at UC San Diego make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel.
This may be a different story from what you expect to hear coming from a college campus. But this is real.
The fact is, this is a good time to be a Jewish college student. At UC San Diego, Hillel serves as a crucial convener of community, making Jewish a public good for all students across the university landscape.