Two years ago, when I announced that I would be working for Hillel, I think it’s fair to say that nobody was surprised.
I was first introduced to Hillel at the University of Delaware before my freshman year even began, when I moved into my dorm two days early for UD Hillel’s Freshmen Fest program. From that moment, the path of my college experience began to take shape. Before I declared my major or met my floormates who I would live with for the next four years, I knew that I had found a home in Hillel. The friends I met became my family, the staff became mentors who supported me in every way, and for the first time in my life I had a place where I could explore my connection to Judaism without judgement.
After spending a summer interning at Hillel’s Schusterman International Center, I knew without a doubt that becoming a Hillel professional was my ultimate goal. Never before had I felt so accepted, so welcomed, and so challenged in a way that I loved. To this day, nearly everyone I have met through Hillel has been deeply invested in my growth and success. I wanted to continue being surrounded by this energy and passion, and to provide the same meaning and experiences to college students after me. I wanted future Jewish students to have similar opportunities to learn, to grow, and to feel completely accepted as they are. And I wanted to give back to the movement that had already given me so much.
So nobody was surprised when I announced I would be working for UC San Diego Hillel – nobody except me.
At first I felt utterly unqualified for the position of Springboard Ezra Fellow. I didn’t grow up going to a private Jewish day school; I had only started learning Torah in my later years in college at UD Hillel. Despite my deep love for Judaism, I felt as though my lack of formal Jewish education was a weakness that I had to overcome in order to succeed.
However, this was part of the surprise. As I slowly let my guard down and shared my fears of inadequacy as an educator, I was met with nothing but support. I soon understood that my past experiences were not a weakness but an asset, which I learned could be used to help me connect with my students. And as I nurtured them, the experience nurtured me; I learned to grow from my uncertainty, and became proud of who I am as a Jewish educator.
I was also surprised by how quickly my Springboard cohort became family. Two years ago I moved across the country, but because of the connections I made through Springboard, I never felt alone. Even though the work was often challenging, with every obstacle I faced I knew I could get through it because of the dozens of people across the country who always had my back. From celebrating Shabbat and holidays together, to traveling around Western Asia, to camping and glamping trips, and dancing in the woods while discussing environmentalism in the Torah, some of my favorite memories are of experiences shared with the friends I made through the Springboard Fellowship.
Thanks to the unwavering support of my Hillel family and mentors, I will be continuing in my Jewish journey through rabbinical school at Hebrew College next year. And while part of me is still surprised that this is the path I have found, another part of me still isn’t surprised. Through Hillel, I have been inspired by more people than I can count. The personal, professional, and spiritual growth I experienced through Springboard gave me the tools I needed to take this next step.
As I prepare for those next steps at Hebrew College, I’ll take all of those memories, experiences, friends, and mentors with me. While it’s safe to say that I don’t know who, where, or how I will serve as a rabbi, I carry all of what I learned about building relationships, creating communities, showing up even when it feels uncomfortable, and deepening my own connection to Judaism. And so much of that came from my time at Hillel, starting at the University of Delaware and continuing at UC San Diego. And who knows - while it’s hard to see where my path as a rabbi will take me, I imagine that one day it might return me to Hillel again!