The Hillel on campus is a student-run organization for Jewish students. Participants in this club can come to events celebrating their heritage and cultural traditions, as well as hang out and make friends. Hillel offers a learning initiative to help people explore their Jewish religion if they want, and once upon a time, Shabbat dinners and services.
Rachel Druker, a former Hillel president, spoke about the services Hillel offered.
“In its heyday, Hillel saw over 30 members coming to events weekly,” Druker said. “We offered programming two-three times a week and bigger stuff once a month. We had programs for retention, [and] it really worked. We offered a freshman mentor program, that was really loved.”
Rebekah Adelson, a Hillel liaison, confirms this.
“Five and a half years ago, Hillel was a thriving organization under the student government,” Adelson said. “As we went on, our numbers built [and] our programs got better.”
But this hasn’t been the case over the past few years. And now, there are barely any members left.
“[The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic] hit,” Adelson said. “We’ve been struggling since. New students don’t know about Hillel. Anyone from 2020-2022 hasn’t had a real chance to check us out.”
Izzi Rosenstark, a sophomore film and television major and Hillel president, agrees. When she first started with Hillel a year ago, there were barely any members.
“There were a few familiar faces, [they’d] come in, see how it goes,” Rosenstark said. “Not too many [members], not consistent members. Like most people, I wasn’t too involved.”
Samantha Gross, a sophomore visual arts major and current vice president, talks about her lack of Hillel experience when first joining Hillel.
“When I joined, I didn’t really have expectations of what Hillel would be like,” Gross said. “Last year, I didn’t even know Hillel did events, I saw an occasional post. I wasn’t really involved because there wasn’t a presence on campus.”
But all of that is now changing. Rosenstark has been working hard to restart the Hillel. From the beginning of the semester’s one-person board, Hillel has expanded to three, with hopes and expectations for new board members and memberships in the spring semester.
“We have big plans for next semester,” Rosenstark said. “It will just keep picking up speed. Now [that] the board is more than just me, we will be able to grow the club, and hold events that actually require multiple hands on deck.”
That’s why Gross joined the board.
“We’re hoping to make it bigger, to grow,” Gross said. “I chose to join the board because I can bring fresh ideas and perspective, and we needed more participation.”
They are excited to see new membership and activity, starting with the Chanukah party that took place earlier this month. The board reports that participation was high.
“This event had a great turnout, we had about 20 people,” Rosenstark said. “I expected way less since it’s dead in the finals week and we also didn’t anticipate a large group in general.”
Due to more-than-expected participation, they even had to add more seating.
“We had to add new chairs, had to squeeze people in,” Rosenstark added. “I think it went really well. Lots of people participated. The doughnuts were a big hit. The turnout should be really good going forward.”
Gross was pleased with the amount of attendees.
“We had amazing doughnuts and decorating, and dreidel games,” Gross said. “We had such an amazing turnout. So many people came and had such a good time. After the last event, we didn’t have such a big turnout. It was nice to see a bigger one this time.”
Daniel Carr, a junior business administration major with a concentration in business analytics, participated in the event and shared how they thought it went.
“It’s hard to get a solid group of us together,” Carr said. “So this was really fun. [It was] cool to get the people together.”
Hillel may have started off not so successful this year, but they finished the semester strong and going forward, hope to continue to do so. For more information, you can check them out on Instagram at @montclairhillel.