UD Hillel students and staff at the 2013 Student Leadership Retreat at the Pearlstone Center in Maryland.
The University of Delaware Hillel has always understood the importance of developing their students to be strong Jewish leaders. The Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) program was created to cultivate a skilled and invested community of student leaders ready to enrich the Jewish people and the world.
The LEAD program benefits UD Hillel’s large community of sixty student leaders, which includes 7 Campus Entrepreneur Initiative (CEI) Interns, 40 student group board members, and 13 Hillel Interns. The program began two years ago when Hillel’s former Executive Director, Ronit Sherwin, and then Program Director, Nicole Wasilus, discovered that the student groups had become separated and that Hillel was failing to create a unified community of Jewish student leaders on campus. They realized that if Hillel’s student leaders lack a good understanding of the other groups under Hillel’s umbrella or a strong grasp of the organization as a whole, their chances of increasing their reach to the rest of the Jewish student population on campus were low.
The LEAD program began with Hillel’s first student leadership retreat in August 2013. UD Hillel’s staff organized a Shabbaton retreat with the hopes of developing a team of student leaders motivated to work together. Hillel International staff, University professionals, and local Jewish professionals led workshops with Hillel students to provide them with the tools they needed to be successful leaders on campus. UD Hillel Assistant Director Nicole Wasilus expressed that “Students left the retreat with not only a clearer understanding of our Hillel and their role as a student leader, but with great excitement to go out and build Jewish life on the UD campus”.
With great momentum from the leadership retreat, Hillel staff kicked off a monthly dinner and speaker series. This provides Hillel student leaders with an opportunity to come together on a regular basis during the school year to learn about leadership through a Jewish lens. While it began as a way of continuing to offer professional development opportunities to their dedicated student leaders throughout the year, it has become an integral part of their leadership training and engagement strategy.
UD Hillel Interim Director Donna Schwartz said, “The LEAD speaker series offers our student leaders an opportunity to meet and learn from one another, as well as from seasoned community leaders in an atmosphere of professionalism and shared purpose. Putting all of our leaders in one room on a regular basis fosters communication between groups, and lends itself to our goal of creating a shared vision for Jewish life on campus that students can then go out and work towards.”
This program has also helped our students feel connected to the larger Delaware Jewish community outside campus, and vice-versa. The LEAD program has introduced the local community to UD Hillel and their talented student leaders. President of Kesher and UD senior, Ben Pagliaro, said he “enjoys the ability to meet people who have made it in the Jewish sphere and hear about their experience.”
Josh Kashinsky, Program Director at the Siegel JCC, led the October LEAD program. The topic of Kashinsky’s workshop was how to be a leader in the Jewish community without feeling Jewish enough.
“I really enjoyed getting a chance to hear about Josh’s path to finding a career in the Jewish world”, said President of Hillel Student Life, senior Alexandra Nau. “He discussed that he did not take the ‘typical’ Jewish professional path, as he engaged in many other experiences before coming to the Siegel JCC. Nau added, “I was not raised in a two-parent Jewish household (my father is not Jewish), and therefore it took me a little longer than most students to find my path in Jewish life. I like knowing that even though I bring this different perspective, it should not deter my interests in working within the Jewish sector.”
Nau added that “Josh asked us during the discussion, do we feel that we are Jewish leaders or leaders who are Jewish? Although I currently serve as Hillel Student Life President, I am also very involved in things outside of Jewish life. This discussion really allowed me to see how while yes, I am not representing a Jewish population in every leadership opportunity I engage in, I am always a Jewish leader”.
“Every single person has their own take and spin on the religion, and its cultural values and how it applies to every day life. Being able to cultivate these experiences and connect with others because of our differences is a really unique thing about being a Jewish leader” said CEI Intern Emily Shapiro. She added that the meeting “was really discussion based and focused more around us as the students and representatives of Hillel. I felt like it was a very comfortable environment, where I was free to express my answers and beliefs and could discuss them with my peers.”
“What resonated most with me was the fact that Hillel, as a pluralistic Jewish organization, has the ability to reach a wide variety of students. It gives people the ability to freely express themselves,” Pagliaro said about his take away from Kashinsky’s workshop. Kashinsky made connections between Hillel and the Siegel JCC as organizations that both have the opportunity to connect with all types of Jews.
“Aside from the inspiring speakers that come each month, I love getting a chance to catch up and get to know each Hillel student leader,” Nau also said. “Sometimes it is difficult to get to know each other on an informal level. With a little pizza and schmoozing, I feel like LEAD allows me to learn about others and myself!”
UD Hillel is excited to expand the LEAD program with the support of a recent grant from the I Could Do Great Things Foundation. Hillel will be hiring a student LEAD intern who will bring together students and community members for a professional networking event. Hillel believes that the student leaders will benefit greatly from the opportunity to meet prominent local Jewish community leaders. With this funding, Hillel will also be expanding the student leadership retreat, to take place in March, and providing more opportunities for professional development for their students.
UD Hillel Assistant Director Nicole Wasilus added, “With endless leadership positions and opportunities competing for students’ time, UD Hillel is able to show through the LEAD program that we invest in and develop our student leaders. Being a UD Hillel student leader connects you to a larger network of students and professionals beyond the University. We believe that we provide our students with valuable leadership training and experiences. By investing our time and resources in developing a select group of students, we prepare them to engage other Jewish students on campus and create meaningful programs. This enables us to increase the breadth of students engaged in Jewish life and the depth of these experiences.”
Alexander Zissman is a junior at UD, majoring in Organizational and Community Leadership with minors in Business Administration and Jewish Studies with Language. Alex is from Bethesda, Maryland and serves as the Communications Intern at Hillel. He is also Religious Chair of KOAH, and a member of the UD AIPAC Cadre.