The day before Hillel shut down due to safety concerns, students and staff celebrated the Jewish holiday known as Purum. Within 24 hours, Hillel went from hosting a hangout at Barflyy to a completely virtual world, said Hillel assistant director Ethan Krasnow.
Posting interactive content on social media was Hillel’s initial attempt at the start of the pandemic to create a virtual community. Staff members would post a workout or cooking demonstration on Instagram to keep students engaged, Krasnow said.
During this time, students also had the opportunity to film their "student story" to have it posted on Instagram. "Student stories" were small videos of students sharing their interests and hobbies.
“I remember thinking that ‘I’m not sure where this is heading, but this is exactly what we can do right now,’” Krasnow said.
As spring 2020 wrapped up, Hillel began deciding its next steps through a committee made up of students, staff and board of trustees members. Committee members met throughout the summer to discuss protocols and whether they will open the doors for the fall 2020 semester.
After a “resounding no,” Krasnow said the committee decided they would enter the fall semester virtually.
Once the decision was made, Hillel began structuring its virtual sabbath and holiday experience for its members. According to Krasnow, food plays an important role in Jewish holidays and staff members wanted to continue connecting students to that tradition by Shabbat meal pickups.
Students can engage in a weekly to-go experience by picking up their homemade Shabbat meal before gathering with other community members for service via Zoom. Friday’s Shabbat meal pickups continue to be available for students that register by Thursday at 2 p.m.
“It [Shabbat meal pick-ups] would be the only student interaction in-person that we’d have this whole year,” said Lauren Miller, Hillel student leader president.
Hillel will be offering this service during Passover, which runs from March 27 through April 4, and students who wish to register for the Kosher-for-Passover Shabbat meal pick up can do through Hillel's website by March 31 at 2 p.m.
Along with providing meals, Hillel wants to support students by keeping in contact with them, Krasnow said. Staff members have reached out to hundreds of students to create productive and meaningful conversations during the pandemic.
“We listen to them, we give them advice, we get them involved,” Krasnow said. “That’s been a really important part of what we do.”
According to Krasnow, as Hillel connects with its students in micro-communities, relationships form and success increases in both groups. When necessary, board members of Jewish student groups such as Golden Flashes of Israel and Achoti have continued asking Hillel for support during the pandemic, Krasnow said.
Through this connection, Hillel has been able to support events such as Achoti’s book clubs and women’s week. According to Miller, women’s week “entailed so many amazing things,” such as yoga, a virtual cooking class and a conversation of women in IDF, or Israel Defense Force.
Miller remains hopeful that Hillel will begin to re-open its doors next semester with strict safety precautions. Until then, Hillel will continue to remind students that it has something for everyone, Krasnow said.
“I don’t like thinking about a student that’s sitting in their dorm room and not doing anything,” Krasnow said. “I want them to know Hillel is out there.”
Hannah Mayer covers religion and faith. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.