When I was a student at UVA, Hillel helped me out so much. From helping me find a spiritual community on grounds, to free meals with Shabbat dinners and bagels on the lawn, and even letting me use the building as a location for tutoring students! Jake even let me have my engagement party there after I proposed to my fiance this past August. For all of these reasons and many more, I will always have a special place in my heart for the Brody Jewish Center and will continue to give back to the organization that helped me so much as a student.
I give monthly to Hillel for many reasons. First off, it's a lot easier for me to give a little steadily throughout the year than to give a large sum of money once a year. I can plan giving into my budget so that it doesn't take a large chunk out of my bank account once a year. I also know that organizations like Hillel love to have monthly donations because it helps them plan their activities knowing they will have a steady stream of revenue coming in. Think of it like would you rather have a paycheck you get twice a month, or have a much smaller chance of getting a larger sum of money? I know I would rather have the steady paycheck for peace of mind!
I hope reading this helped you see why I give to Hillel and has inspired you to give back too!
- Ben Edgar '15
This summer I was a Hillel Summer Intern at the Schusterman International Center in D.C. My specific internship was as a Jewish Experience Intern through the Meyerhoff Jewish Education Center, and it was focused a lot on Jewish education in Hillel programming.
Myself and the other Jewish Experience Intern did a lot of work going through education archives to determine what was still useful/could be worked on for further use, and what was no longer extremely relevant to the Jewish young adult. We also started work on a Pilot program for Jewish Holiday education on campuses, and helped with Webinar programs to train staff on using new programs and materials.
Towards the end of the summer I was part of the logistics team for Institute, the Hillel International Conference in St. Louis for new professionals and engagement interns. I was responsible for planning the Body&Soul programming for the mornings so that people could exercise their bodies and minds before the busy day. I also helped with day to day logistics during the conference- anything from working registration to driving people and large items in golf carts around campus (Which was a major highlight for me)
Hillel International also set up opportunities for myself and the other interns to participate in professional development classes and to network with a variety of staff within the SIC during the summer. I was able to meet so many amazing professionals who are currently in a field I some day hope to work in, which was so valuable to me. I feel so lucky to have worked with Hillel International this summer and I am excited to bring back my knowledge to UVA this year and our own Hillel programming!
- Annie Weinberg
It was after a long day of packing, driving, and moving in that I got the news that the Alt-Right was coming to Grounds. It was that night that I stood truly terrified for my livelihood, alone in my new room, looking through a worn peephole and heard the chants, “Jews will not replace us,” as a mass of flames flowed up the Lawn. When my pavilion neighbor came to get me, I ripped off my Jewish jewelry and hid my painting with Israeli flags, but there was no way to remove the physical indicators from my body. Everything about who I am felt like a threat. They hated me, and here I was in this room. I sprinted terrified into the pavilion a couple doors down, just mere feet from hundreds of people carrying weapons and wearing shirts with symbols that clearly communicated they wanted me dead—while some had these same symbols tattooed proudly to their skin.
I can never go back to the way I was before that night. I cannot look at torches, swastikas, or even the Lawn the same way. I am traumatized by what happened and immediately following that night, everything felt like a threat. I started to count the number of Jews in my classes. I changed the way I walked so I didn’t have to cross the Lawn after the sun went down. I slept with ear plugs so I knew when the chants were coming from outside my door or inside my head. I honestly felt like I was going crazy. After that experience, my world fundamentally changed. The way I thought, the way I engaged (or disengaged), and the way I felt was different.
Living through and experiencing one of the greatest demonstrations of anti-Semitism in the past half century was an aggressive reminder of my Judaism. Something so personal and integral to who I am made me feel scared for my life. I have never felt more Jewish than in that moment and in the months that followed, and I felt comforted to know that fellow Jews felt the same. I found a sense of safety and security in other Jews and found myself turning to my Jewish friends and Hillel staff as my greatest source of support. I am eternally grateful that I had these relationships to fall back on because they are truly what got me through each day last fall.
As much as I hate to give my experience with literal Nazis a silver lining, it was that experience that brought me closer to my Jewish friends and showed me the tremendous strength and resilience of our Jewish community. I can’t quite describe how important it was to be to be able to walk into Hillel and be surrounded by people who just “got it” or feel the support from fellow Jews when the rest of my world seemed to be crumbling. Despite the terror and trauma, this place still means the world to me. Our University, our country, and our world are far from perfect, but the power of the Jewish people to be there for each other when we need it most is what assures me that we can make it through.
-- Diane, 4th Year Student
Unlike many of my peers on our Alternative Spring Break trip to Berlin, I didn’t have many personal connections to Germany or even the Holocaust. All of my grandparents were born and raised safely in the United States by the time World War II came, so thinking about the Holocaust has always been one-step removed. I have also been fortunate enough to spend time on other trips diving deeper into Holocaust education and remembrance, including a week in Poland touring Auschwitz and the other infamous death camps.
Because of all of this, my experience in Berlin was perhaps different than someone who lost a relative during the Holocaust or who had never previously come into physical contact with relics of the atrocity that occurred. Maybe I thought I would feel more distant from the history, but leaving Germany, I could not have felt more differently.
If you glimpse at the past hundred years of German history, you’re immediately forced to grapple with stark changes in national identity. After WWI, Germany was meeting modernity, yet unsure of what it meant to be German. During WWII, Germany had a narrow definition of its national identity and sought to persecute all who did not fit within it. After WWII, Germany was split and forced into two vastly different schools of politics and thought. And finally, after reunification, about 5 years before I was born, Germany was given a bunch of broken pieces and a goal for a modern Western democracy. Coming into contact with all of these points of identity change forced me to think about how volatile identity is in the world we live in.
As humans, we seek continuity, especially in our identities, so I empathized with how Germans and especially German Jews were forced to continually readdress their own identities as the history of the world marched forward.
Just as German identity has continued to shift over time, I have realized that Jewish identity, too, must continually be reflected upon and not merely something taken for granted. Identity isn’t static, it responds to the experiences around us and transforms as we process the people, places, and things with which we come into contact.
Although I didn’t expect it, I think I was one of many students whose understanding of my Jewish identity evolved over the course of my time in Berlin. Throughout my life, I have come into contact with various Jewish communities, studied and socialized in different schools, and have participated as a citizen in many different political climates. With each change, I am forced to recapitulate what being Jewish means in the here and now that I experience. For one German Jew, every decade, every year brought new challenges and opportunities for understanding national and religious identity.
While in Germany, I was forced to reflect upon my role as a citizen, as a member of a faith community, and as someone who has one foot in each community: the secular and the religious. I was reminded of all of the Jewish people who, over the past hundred years, have sustained themselves through the tumultuous history of the world and have adapted to make sense of it all.
So perhaps I did not arrive to Germany with an immediate connection to the narrative shared with us, but it did not take long for me to understand the volatile history of identity transformation in the country and how I was far from immune from that process of transformation, as well.
-- Michaela Brown
Class of 2017
The hustle and bustle of school has made me focus a lot more on things other than Germany for the last two weeks. But every time I pass someone who was on the trip, or see the slice of the Berlin Wall on Grounds, someone mentions Germany in my Cold War history class, or I glance at the journal that Germany Close Up gave me, I am jarred back into that experience. For me, the Germany trip was a rollercoaster ride of education, emotion, fun, and thinking. It was an experience very few are lucky enough to have.
Some things that have really stuck out to me, that I keep going back and pondering on, were our visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, meeting with the German member of federal Parliament, and walking around to street markets on that last day of the trip. With Sachsenhausen, I have been thinking a lot about the courtyard in front of tower A where the prisoners would line up for roll call. I think of the frigid winters and the blazing summers, the smaller children and older men; I think of the Russian POWs and the gays there, of the guards who went back to their quarters for a beer or tea after a hard day of work. I think about how there was life in the camp. I think about how people’s existences were confined in those walls and watched in those towers. I haven’t reacted as emotionally as I thought I would to seeing a concentration camp, but the thought lingers in my mind: “What if that were my family and me.”
The member of German Federal Parliament left me with a completely different feel. His ability to absorb our tough questions and give direct, graceful answers is something I really admired about how he handled us. Not only that, I think he displayed a lot of prudence and strong values, something a lot of us were keen to hear after our political discussion in Dresden. (For those of y’all who were on the trip, I also can’t get the sound of Gunther’s voice out of my head!).
Finally, the last day we were in Berlin, which coincided with Shabbat, was really special to me. Having the time off to walk around the city, explore, go to art exhibits, duck into random stores, do some people watching, eat a bratwurst, and do a lot of the things I wanted to do in Berlin was an absolute highlight of the trip. After spending a week rigorously learning and grappling, it was very cool to settle in and see what “a day in the life” is like. Walking around the city with some of my best friends and just being present in that moment is a memory I’ll keep for the rest of my life.
-- Erik Roberts
Class of 2018
One of the most wonderful aspects of group travel is the variety of lenses through which each member of a group views his or her experience. Each comes in with different interests that they want to address, and leaves with a unique take on what they have seen. I often find myself noticing these themes and trends when others have asked questions or engaged in conversation. More often than not, these themes relate to our personal goals, areas of study, and passions.
Our trip was no exception to this. For me, each question I asked and every conversation I started related somehow to education and experiential learning because these are my passions. For others it was religion, history, health, and, of course, politics. It was as though each of us was a delegate from our respective groups, coming together to teach to and learn from one another. The best part was that these interactions gave all of us the chance to learn something new that we may not have had the opportunity to learn otherwise. I specifically recall one day where a Biomedical Engineering student explained to everyone that the reason she was so engaged and asking so many questions was because back at school she would never have such an opportunity to focus so deeply on history and the humanities.
This got me thinking about how easy it is for each of us to get wrapped up in a specific realm of learning or work. Of course this isn’t a bad thing. We need the devoted Biomedical Engineering students of the world to stay on course and innovate, and we need the Religious Studies majors to focus on finding common-ground and understanding between groups. However, I was reminded on this trip how valuable it is to be able to take breaks from our tireless pursuits to absorb new ideas and perspectives. When we do this, we are encouraging a world full of well-rounded and empathetic individuals who are capable of working with one another in the name of progress.
I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to learn with my fellow wahoos on this trip!
Youth and Social Innovation
University of Virginia ‘19
I didn't know what to expect coming on this trip. I thought I didn't have many expectations to begin with, but that doesn't seem to be the case. The experiences I am getting, the conversations I am having, and the things I am learning are challenging me to reflect and reconsider both how I think of my Jewish identity and with today's public policy challenges.
On Monday we visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I knew this would be an emotionally tough experience, but I don't think any kind of emotional preparation could have truly prepared me for the experience. Walking through the gates reading "arbeit macht frei" translating to "work sets you free", I got a sickening feeling. It was an empty saying. There was no chance for freedom. We learned that Nazi soldiers would taunt the Jews and prisoners by saying there was one way to freedom then point to the smoke tower of the crematorium. I walked around with a pit in my stomach. The extent of physical planning, consciousness in decision making, and psychological manipulation of the Nazis is something I will never be able to comprehend but started to grapple with walking through the camp. The true feelings of hate and dehumanization of Jews was powerful enough to make human beings do really terrible things to other human beings-- a concept I simply can't wrap my brain around.
Throughout the day I saw a number of things that became visions burned into my brain; a barrack where Jews would sleep 3 to a bed in tiny bunks stacked one on top of the other, a field that would be packed with prisoners as they stood in lines for role call waiting in the cold for hours with nothing but thin, stripped uniforms, what was left of the ovens where countless people were murdered... Imagining the scenes of what it looked like when the camp was running and seeing what was left of it there today, these disturbing images were stuck in my mind, and I found myself quickly sketching these bits to try to get them out.
As I walked out of the gates and left the concentration camp, I couldn't help but get the strange feeling that if I was here a couple decades prior, I may have never been able to pass through these gates in this direction. I don't think I will ever be able to fully comprehend what this experience was like for my ancestors and the millions of people who were murdered in places like this at the hands of hatred.
Though incomparable to 1945, I couldn't help but think about the largely hateful rhetoric surrounding minority groups today. Whether it is with neo-Nazis in Germany, domestic issues we face in the US, or the persecution of other races and religions around the world, we cannot let history repeat itself. As Jews, but more importantly as humans, we have an obligation to stand up for human rights. Over 11 million murdered cannot go unnoticed. It still may take me quite some time to process this experience fully, but now in the time being I'm feeling more committed to standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves.
Hello friends and family of my new found friends! Shockingly, it is already Thursday (I would include the time but that’s different for you and me and thus would make it kind of confusing) and so, sadly, we only have a few more days in Deutschland. Our time here to date has been full of delightful, interesting, and meaningful experiences. Let’s recap.
We have two guides- Richard and Kaleen. They’re exceptional people and very knowledgeable about everything we see. Perhaps more importantly, they make sure we’re always on time for the next activity. Sometimes this entails scurrying across tram tracks but, most of the time, it doesn’t. Also, Melissa is joining us. She’s good at counting, which is important because sometimes we like to wander and losing a student would be bad.
As for our actual activities they have been varied and full. Our first day was named “Space and Time in Berlin”. Unfortunately, we didn’t go to space but we did have a fantastic walking (mostly standing) tour during which we learned about our neighborhood: Jewish Berlin Mitte. We also zoomed through the German Historical Museum AND did a bus tour of the city. It was CRAZY but mostly just really busy. The sights were real, they were cool, and the bus was comfy. Many tried to stay awake for the duration and, though I tried my hardest, I was not among them.
We’ve also done a whole lot more and If I listed every activity we’d never leave (and, more importantly, I’ll never get to sleep on this train). So let’s go ludacris speed. We’ve visited the Holocaust Memorial and a Concentration Camp (look for another post on that from my esteemed colleague Diane), spent a day in Dresden exploring the sights, and another day in Dresden talking a bit about the political situation and exploring an old Stasi jail.
It has been an absolute whirlwind. Full of great information, new friends (I’m looking at you… everyone), and .5 liter steins of beer. Germany has not failed to impress. Of course, we have also spent much of our time discussing Germany’s past, how Jewish society in Germany has changed and developed, and how we feel and can relate to different events and realities.
Oh, and of course I have to mention the food. They are feeding us exceptionally well. Dare I say even: terrifically well. Steak and gnocchi and strudel, oh my! Their pork knuckle even comes with the skin, tendons, and bone. That’s what I call value (and an extremely troublesome psychological barrier)! Anyways, we’re doing great, we’re learning lots, and no one has yet fallen in the river. Go hoos!
- Zach Diamond
Class of 2017
Today we awoke at the crack of dawn...literally. Breakfast was served at 6:30; it was an assortment of fresh cheeses and breads, jelly, eggs, cereal, and the like. We watched the sunrise as we ate, illuminating the clear desert sky into vivid colors of blue. After breakfast, we headed down to where the camels were kept and paired off, since there were two seats per camel. After putting on our helmets, we hopped onto the camels' backs. Mati and I were partners, and I took the back. The camel lurched its rear end upwards (where we sat), and then picked its head and neck up afterwards. The camels were tied together, and Freddy, my camel, reluctantly brought up the rear. The camel ride was definitely one to remember. Though only around 20 minutes in total, it was one of the most fun experiences. Freddy was unhappy that he was the caboose of the train, so he decided that he would continuously nudge Jesse Alloy, who was in front of me. They became fast friends. Jesse's camel decided to gobble up a huge mouthful of slop and dirt from the ground, and make hilariously gross chewing motions and noises.
After the camel ride, we embarked on our journey west. The bus ride took about an hour and a half, on which a group of us played Liar's Poker and a group of us played Heads Up (similar to charades). We passed through much of the Negev, the views of which were surprisingly beautiful. Arid, but hilly and rocky, desert surrounded us in all directions. We traveled snaking roads that climbed the hills, and barely saw any other cars, because let's face it, who else would be driving at 8:00 in the morning through a barren desert? All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we turned a corner and BAM! the Dead Sea came into view. It was breathtaking. The blue color of the sea contrasted with the tan sand, against a backdrop of Jordanian mountains. On the way to the Dead Sea, we stopped at the bottom of a mountain: Masada (מץדה). We took the easy, short way up the mountain on the Roman Ramp. We hiked it in only 15-20 minutes. We came to the top of the fortress and it opened up to a large area. It was honestly unbelievable that this place had been inhabited thousands of years ago by Jews who fled from the Romans. The abbreviated version of the tragedy of Masada is this: Herod the King built the original palace on top of the mountain as a safe haven where he could flee, if and when the Jews rose up against him. He died, the Romans eventually took over, and drove out the Jews. However, a group of zealous Jews, called the Sicarii, opposed the Roman rule and were forced up the mountain as the Romans pursued them. The Romans laid siege to the mountain for over a year with the best legions they had, yet the mighty Sicarii staved them off until their gate was eventually burned down. Seeing their end was in sight, the Sicarii decided that being captured by the Romans was a fate worse than death. Thus, the 960 Sicarii killed each other with their sicae (small daggers) in a mass suicide as a last noble move. It was said that even the Romans were in awe of the Sicarii's bravery.
Hearing about the history of Masada as we stood atop the mountain, gazing at where our noble, brave ancestors had once dwelled, filled me with a sense of pride for my people. Our people had held off the most powerful army in the world with strength and courage. At the top, we also got to gaze at one of the most *beautiful* views I've ever seen in my life: the Negev ending at the Dead Sea, and the Dead Sea ending at the base of a Jordanian mountain range. We took a zillion pictures, and then headed down the other side of the mountain on the Snake Path. The name was aptly given, as the path was the most curvy, rocky path ever. The sun beat down on us as we trekked down the mountain, but the heat was refreshing, since the last week had been brisk, rather chilly weather.
After making it to the bottom, we got on the bus and made our way to the International Beach at the Dead Sea. Our group split in two: one group ate first and the other went swimming in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth (1400 feet below sea level) and one of the Seven Wonders of the natural world. If the Snake Path at Masada was aptly named, the Dead Sea is even more aptly named, since it is nearly impossible for anything to live there. Though, some microscopic life forms have recently been found near the bottom of the sea. The salt content is astonishing. Beaches were lined with salt near the water instead of sand, and the bottom of the sea is pure salt. I put a drop on my tongue to taste, and quickly realized why Chelly told us not to, haha. Its 34.2% salinity was certainly noticeable. We walked into the icy sea and reluctantly sat down to embrace the cold water. It was truly remarkable that one can just float there (due to the salt). We kicked our feet up and could've floated there for ages. The craziest part was when I tried to stand up. I stood completely straight, and my feet didn't touch the bottom, nor did I even start to sink at all. I just floated there. It is said that masses heavier than cars can even float in the Dead Sea. It is hard to describe the feeling of just floating in water that you know you should be sinking in. After we had had our fair share of floating, we quickly rinsed off, ate a fast lunch (or snacks), and got back on the bus to head to Ashkelon. The bus ride took about an hour or so, and on the way we slept and played Heads Up again. We checked into the Holiday Inn in Ashkelon, and took the most wonderfully cleansing showers ever. The Holiday Inn is certainly the nicest off all the hotels we've stayed at. Balconies overlook the Mediterranean Sea (now we are at 0 feet above sea level haha), and the hotel itself is just very clean and elegant. We lit the Shabbat candles and made our way to the beach (about a 1-2 minute walk), where we spent the time reflecting and meditating on our week and what it means to rest.
As we pondered this, we got to watch the sunset over the Mediterranean, creating gorgeous color schemes in the sky. Reds lined the horizon, and gradually turned into the dark navy and black of night. The moon shone brightly against the perfectly clear sky. The sunset provided a beautiful background for our naming ceremony, a time when anyone could select a new Hebrew name for themselves, in addition to the one they may had already been given at birth. It is said that we all have three names: one given to us at birth, one that our friends call us, and one that we give ourselves. We talked about how Jacob had wrestled with an angel in biblical times, and ultimately was shown the blessing of knowing his own name. Four of us participated in the ceremony, and the rest of us cheered them on. Afterwards, we had time before dinner to relax, so a group of us hung out downstairs in the lobby. Some chatted and some played a game called Secret Stalin, one of the most intense games of persuasion and wit I have ever played. We had also played this late last night in the Bedouin tent. Then, we had dinner at the hotel, where we ate from a really delicious buffet. It included fish, chicken, multiple kinds of beef, every Israeli or Mediterranean salad possible, rice, couscous, a salad bar, and a large dessert bar. One of the most refreshing parts of Israel, for me, is the fact that I never have to question whether or not I can eat the meat; there is never pork or shellfish, since everything is kosher. We ended the night at the oneg upstairs, where we played games and ate snacks. Halava, gummies, and dried fruit were passed around. We played a game called Look Up (led by Tallulah), Telephone (led by Ally) and Bang (led by Saskia). It was immensely fun—in part because I won Bang in an epic showdown against Aviv, our security guard. The rest of the night was on our own, and tonight we have the luxury of sleeping in tomorrow morning since it is Shabbat. After a long day of fun and excitement, the 10th day of our trip has come to an end, and I, for one, am exhausted. I can't wait to see what the next two days have in store for us!
Yesterday we departed our beautiful hotel in Jerusalem and headed towards Mt Herzl. While there, we visited the gravesites of Theodore Herzl, Shimon Peres, and American Lone Soldier Michael Levin, along with many other men and women who dedicated their lives to the creation and preservation of the State of Israel. Following our trip to the National Military Ceremony, we ventured back to Machaneh Yehuda for lunch and shopping in the market.
After enjoying delicious rugelach from Marzipan Bakery, we were on our way out of Jerusalem and into the Negev, the largest desert in Israel. Before heading to the Bedouin tents, we stopped at Sde Boker, a beautiful view and the final burial site of first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Finally, we arrived at our tent and enjoyed a Hafla-style dinner in traditional Bedouin fashion. We took a short walk into the desert and had a thought-provoking discussion about our relationships with G-d.
After finishing up programming for the day, we taught our Israeli friends how to make smores and enjoyed eating our treats by the campfire. We packed into one giant tent and enjoyed the rest of our night together. It was another day of learning a lot, forming stronger relationships, and dreading the ending of this incredible experience.
-- Hayley Katzenstein
The Brody Jewish Center, Hillel at the University of Virginia, is the focal point in a renaissance of Jewish life for the 1,800 Jewish students on Grounds.