Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

A great beginning for Hillel at Stetson-L'Shana Tova and go Hatters!


September 7, 2018

Sam Friedman

I have to confess something-when I was in college, I did not go to Hillel. I made a deal with my mother that I would go once a semester for a bagel brunch or a Shabbat dinner, but after fall of my freshmen year I decided it wasn't for me (sorry Mom). Even five years ago when I moved to the Orlando area to help restart Central Florida Hillel I was skeptical. Does Hillel work? Does it have an impact? Can a truly welcoming and inclusive community really exist on a college campus?

Through no small amount of coaching, and an even larger amount of patience, my friend and mentor, Aaron Weil (whose High Holiday message I imagine is somewhere near here), I came to see the impact that a truly exceptional Hillel can have. Notably, that excellent Hillels develop excellent students, who foster excellence on campus, and it's inspiring to watch an excellent Hillel develop at Stetson.

In the past few months, Stetson Hillel has hosted:

• The first Shavuot celebration in the history of the university where Jewish and non-Jewish students came to eat cheesecake, celebrate Shavuot, and discuss commandments and values together.

• The largest Shabbat dinner in the history of the university, with 1/3 of the Jewish population in attendance, the president and her husband joining us, and a spirit that can only come when you're experiencing something magical.

• A back to school BBQ where over 80 hot dogs, 40 hamburgers and tons of chips and sodas were consumed in the sprawling yard of the Stetson Hillel House.

• A weekly values-based "Jew Wanna Talk About It?" discussion series where students come to discuss Jewish values and how they relate to each themselves, to the campus, and to the greater Jewish community.

Looking ahead, Stetson Hillel has a full program of holidays, events, shindigs, get-togethers, meals parties and other opportunities for Jews on campus to be together including:

• Weekly Shabbat dinners

• High Holiday meals and services for Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah

• A water cleanup, as part of the statewide Reverse Tashlich program developed by Hillels of the Florida Suncoast

• Delegations, the first in the history of Stetson, to the JNF College Summit in Arizona, and the AIPAC SabanART training in New Jersey

• A Chanukah bar night to celebrate the end of the semester, celebrate Chanukah, and add our own light to the world

We are also developing our first AIPAC Cadre (HatterPAC), working on bringing Jewish Greek life to campus, and beginning discussions with campus catering on ensuring students who keep Kosher have options to eat on campus with their meal plan. It's an exciting time, and it's a busy time, and you're welcome to join us.

So yes, Hillel does work, and at Stetson it's off to a great start; the community we are developing is meaningful, inclusive, and welcoming. As we go into 5779 may the knowledge that even in DeLand, Florida, Judaism matters, allow us all to have a good year. L'Shana Tova, and Go Hatters!

Sam Friedman,

Hillel director


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