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CU-Boulder Hillel has a plan to enhance Jewish life

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Nikki Bloch, Gabriella Semet, Chelsea MillerAS some CU students ponder the year ahead, others have already put into motion a plan to make this year’s campus experience richer, at least from a Jewish perspective.

Earlier this month, a few select CU students participated in an annual conference in St. Louis for an intensive leadership development program with Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world that provides students with opportunities to explore their Jewish identity and connect with the Jewish community on campus.

The students underwent an intensive leadership development program to acquire tools needed to engage their peers in conversations about all matters Jewish.

Hanan Nayberg, the director of Hillel at CU, has been with Hillel for nine years, first in Tulane, then at the University of Texas, and for the last four in Boulder.

He says the philosophy of having students approach and initiate conversations with their peers is a terrific way to increase a university’s Jewish community and Jewish connection.

“We train these student leaders to be sensitive and listen to their peers. When there’s enough trust, the [student leaders] then ask them more meaningful questions in a very respectful way without offering any answer because most of the time, there isn’t one right answer.”

THE students who attend the leadership conference are typically recommended for the post. Nayberg says he looks for students who have distinct social circles that may not necessarily be involved in official organized Jewish life on campus, but who are in the center of many Jewish connections.

Selecting the right students is a year-long process, as Nayberg gets to know them and they him.

These students, along with a few other veterans called “engagers,” are  then tasked with initiating conversations with their peers that explore Jewish values.

They ask what it means to be a Jewish young adult in 2012: the commitment to the community, state, city, elders and the world.

“Having those conversations with friends rather than with a rabbi or professional in a shul or Hillel location is extremely powerful,” says Nayberg.

BUT he’s also seen an uptick in participation when the rabbis open up to the students, too.

Last year, based on feedback from the student leaders that kids were hesitant to start conversations about Jewish learning, Nayberg says they started “a conversation with the rabbi every Tuesday at Hillel . . . informal meetings and discussions where you can go to Hillel and ask the guy, the rabbi. It happened in a very natural way.”

Those conversations expanded into Tuesday night dinner socials that not only attracted more students, but sparked amazing conversations, says Nayberg.

“Students exchange opinions and learn what their heritage is when it comes to questions like ‘what is love in Judaism’ or ‘what is the philosophy of the relationship in Judaism.’ Those are especially important for young adults in a college scene.”

Because of these types of conversations, Nayberg says he’s noticed more student involvement in Hillel and the community at large.

“I really think that this year is going to be almost a record year for us in terms of engagement and seeing students participate in programs and discussions and classes,” he says.

Nayberg expects this year will “be a record year for us in terms of engagement and seeing students participate in programs and discussions and classes.”

Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News

 

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