Metro Chicago Hillel (MCH) serves eight campuses in Chicago. Metro enriches and enhances the Jewish student experience on each of these campuses and across the campuses. As Metro staff and students have worked to stitch these eight individual Hillels into one cohesive community, the richest outcomes have been the relationships our students are building with each other.
Metro's first task was to find a regular forum to connect all of our students. Once a month, we hold a cross-campus Shabbat at the Levine Hillel Center at UIC. Students file in, shmooze, and as the building fills, the energy of the evening begins to activate. Many students engage in worship, singing, discussion and learning with each other, while others take a free moment before dinner to reconnect with friends and shake off the week.
Students are taking notice, and the value of connection to their fellow Jews from beyond their campus is clear. "Even with a strong on-campus community, I feel that some college groups can feel insular and limited to their own campus." said Amitai Loew, a student leader at UIC. "The cross-campus aspect of Metro helps break down those barriers and connects these already strong communities that might otherwise never mix. Including students from across the metro campuses in our Shabbat celebrations has brought excitement and new energy to our Hillel community."
Chaya Moskovits, a MCH engagement intern, shares that, "The MCH structure allows events to be open to all students, whether they go to a science-focused school or an arts school and helps create profound relationships that would not normally be achieved in the typical Hillel setting."
But it doesn't end with Shabbat. MCH provides opportunities for service work and immersion trips. "On a Hurricane Sandy Relief trip to NYC, arranged through JUF's TOV Volunteer Network and the relief organization Nechama, Chicago students from universities and community colleges worked together to help rebuild the lives of Sandy victims. Without these opportunities, there is no one way for me, as a Jewish student, to meet the large and diverse groups of Jewish students in the Chicagoland area."
Connecting students with each other can also help broaden their connection to other Jewish institutions. Students at Columbia College Chicago do not have an active AEPi chapter. Before Metro, there was little that could be done, and a Columbia student who wished to join the Jewish fraternity was simply out of luck. Columbia student Danny Lipsky told us, "I owe a lot to MCH because if it weren't for them I wouldn't be part of a fraternity or have the friends I made through MCH cross-campus programs. I also wouldn't have as strong of a connection to Judaism as I do now. Coming from Michigan, I didn't think it would be possible to stay involved in the Jewish community and I certainly didn't think I would be able to join a fraternity, but thanks to Hillel I was able to make the connections that made these things possible and it has done more for me than I could have possibly imagined."
These are only a few examples of how Metro can help enrich the lives of Jewish students and inspire them to make an enduring commitment to the Jewish people, Israel, and the world around them. Our staff, lay leaders, and most importantly our students are working every day to weave and fashion a vibrant and enduring community of Jewish college students in Chicago. n
Metro Chicago Hillel is part of the department of Campus Affairs and Student Engagement at Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/Jewish United Fund and a partner of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
Nicholas Liebman is senior Jewish educator at Metro Chicago Hillel.