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

Reflecting on the past and looking to the future


September 20, 2019

Stetson Hillel students on Masada.

The Jewish month of Elul is a time for personal reflection and spiritual preparation. We are called to use Elul to take a cheshbon hanefesh-an accounting of the soul, at the end of which we will be prepared for Rosh HaShanah and the Days of Atonement. It's kind of a lot.

At the same time it's essential. We as Jews take a moment to pause, reflect, draw the line in the sand, and decide if we are standing where we want to be... and I find it incredibly poetic that it coincides with the start of the school year.

Our freshmen are starting college, and for many of them this will be their first time away from home for months on end (shout out to Jewish summer camps for preparing college students for dorm life). Our returning students are coming to Stetson a year older, a year smarter, and (hopefully) recommitted to their academic success and studies.

At Hillel we have just completed our first full year with a full-time director, and we inaugurated and trained a new student board with a full suite of talents and networks. We have also had the opportunity to reflect on what worked and what needs to be adjusted.

Last fall, we took the largest student delegation in the country to the Jewish National Fund conference in Phoenix, Ariz., and we had such an incredible experience we decided that we were going to do that again, and I'm pleased to report that this year we also took the largest student delegation in the country to the JNF conference. Not bad for a small school.

This past summer we planned and executed our first Birthright trip. When we approached Birthright about a Stetson trip they allocated five seats on a bus for Stetson. Thankfully when we called and said we needed 15 they were able to accommodate our expanded group, and I am happy to say they have already reached out about us having more this summer.

Last year we hosted every major Jewish holiday (complete with a Passover Seder without power), hosted Shabbat dinner every Friday, and collectively drank what felt like hundreds of cups of coffee with Jewish Hatters, partners on campus, and community members. This year we are going to do that again with multiple opportunities for specialty Seders, partners Shabbatot, and a broader impact on the central Florida Jewish community.

Last year, we said we wanted a Jewish studies lecture, and this year we are hosting one. On Oct. 29th at 6:30 we are hosting Julie Salamon, author of "An Innocent Bystander," an account of the murder of Leon Klinghoffer and its impact on the Jewish and Palestinian communities. Last year, we said we wanted a Jewish studies minor, this year we have one (which is HUGE!). Finally, last year we said we would find a donor for the Hillel House, and thanks to the incredible generosity of the Ginsburg Family Foundation, we officially have the Jeffrey & Diane Ginsburg Hillel House with a grand opening scheduled for November.

It's not enough to look back and reflect, and not look forward and dream (and plan). Last year was incredible for Stetson Hillel and, I would argue, the wider Jewish community. It's good to know that Jewish life is thriving in DeLand, and it's even better to know that this year will be better than last.

Best wishes for a L'Shana Tova and Roll Hats!

Sam Friedman

Stetson Hillel Director


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