Hillel International is the largest Jewish group for college students, with campus presence at over 550 schools in the U.S., Russia, Israel and South America. Hillel has been making big strides towards LGBT inclusion in the past few years, reconfiguring their goals for connecting with students to make sure they’re reaching a diverse spectrum of young adults, and finding ways to connect that are more nuanced and intentional than just getting them into the Hillel building. As part of their efforts, Hillel invited Andrea Jacobs, Keshet’s Director of Education, to the annual Hillel Institute at Washington University in St. Louis — a gathering of Hillel directors, staff, and student leaders from across the country. We talked with Andrea after the conference. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation.
It’s clear Hillel has really changed the way it imagines success. You could see that even from the groups at the “community organization fair,” where everyone from Israel advocacy groups to social media consultants to Keshet, was represented. At the fair, all the representatives of these groups answered questions and met one-on-one with Hillel staff and leaders. I spoke with dozens of people, but the issues that really jumped out at me came from self-identified LGBTQ Hillel staff. And by self-identified, I mean they were pulling me aside, coming out to me, and then asking these pressing questions:
- How do I be a source of support and safety without becoming “that gay Hillel staff person”?
- How do I engage with other Hillel staff or campus Jewish professionals who are Orthodox?
- How do I navigate the natural ebb and flow of student leadership while maintaining inclusion as an important issue?
It was really exciting to hear young professionals discussing these important issues and I’m so glad that we were there to be a touchstone, to encourage them to voice these questions and concerns. I’ve seen situations like this before where the educators know it’s important, the institution knows it’s important, but there’s always a lot going on, and these questions about how to create an inclusive environment for staff and students get left out in the crunch for time and competing priorities.