Bloom Hillel offers students community
Published on Jan. 28, 2015
By: Kelsey Kunstadt
The University of Alabama Bloom Hillel Jewish Student Center provides a Jewish home away from home to students from across the United States during their time at the Capstone. One of UA's student ministry groups, Bloom Hillel brings together Jewish students weekly with Shabbat meals, educational programming and events.
Bloom Hillel, commonly known to students as Bama Hillel, was founded at UA in 1934. In April 2011, the program moved into a new facility named in honor of Star Bloom, co-chair of Hillel's board of trustees, and her late husband, Stan Bloom.
Star Bloom is the founder of Al's Pals, a mentorship program within UA's Center for Sustainable Service and Volunteerism, which sends college students to tutor children at local schools and community centers. Bloom currently serves as coordinator of the Al's Pals program, in addition to her work with Hillel.
"We have such a creative and hard-working director, group of interns and board members," Bloom said. "I can't wait to see what they have in store for the semester and I know I can find it all on our website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook."
Bama Hillel is focusing on spreading the word about their events more than ever with social media. Hillel recently created an Instagram account to help promote Hillel's happenings. Current students want to spread the word about the community they have found.
Risa Hayet, president of Bama Hillel, said that Hillel has helped her grow as an individual having the opportunity to serve on the student board the past three years. "I have grown so much since being here, and I owe a lot of that to my involvement in Hillel," Hayet said.
Every Friday night for Shabbat, Hillel provides a themed and catered meal. Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and considered the day of rest. Past Shabbat meals have included a luau, fiesta and a spooky Halloween Shabbat. This year Hillel board members have started Homestyle Shabbat dinners to bring the Jewish students together on the non-catered Shabbat meals.
"Students love homestyle Shabbats because it enables them to feel like they are at home with their family," said Molly Horowitz, a Hillel intern.
Hillel's student leadership consists of seven board members who are from across the United States. With the help of Bama Hillel's interns, Hillel is able to provide special High Holy Day meals and a Passover Seder in the spring. These two events generally bring the largest attendance. More than 200 students attended this year's Rosh Hashanah dinner.
Hillel welcomes students of all faiths. Whether Jewish or not, Hillel students bring friends to celebrate Jewish holidays and experience different traditions.
Hayet said educational outreach is a big part of Hillel. Every month Hillel has a JJI (Just Jew It) event. JJI events are student-led and focus on spreading awareness of various Jewish teachings and current events. Past programs included a discussion on the Holocaust and moving forward.
"Our last JJI event was an informational meeting about Survivor Mitzvah Project, which provides financial assistance to Holocaust survivors who are still living in terrible conditions in Europe," said Ellie Allen, the secretary of Hillel. "It was very eye opening and I felt inspired to help out."
During the event, students read survivors' letters and discussed their personal relationships with Holocaust survivors they knew.
In October, Krav Maga, an Israeli type of self-defense, was an exciting event where students got to practice hands-on moves.
The board has decided on donating a portion of the money raised to The Survival Mitzvah Project, which raises money to sponsor a Holocaust survivor in Eastern Europe who is in poverty. $1,800 will cover the medical costs and food for one person.
Hillel fundraises throughout the year. Past fundraising events included a Spaghetti Bingo Night, which was open to the entire University and had a great turn out. Hillel receives a matching grant from Hugh and Eliza Culverhouse up to a certain amount for student-led fundraising.
"The grant allows us to raise money to continue funding programming in order to keep up with the demands of a growing Jewish population," said Lisa Besnoy, the program director of Hillel. "It mobilizes our student body by helping them feel invested in Hillel and helps students understand the importance and development to sustain a program."
This semester, Hillel is planning a 3 on 3 basketball tournament, a Habitat for Humanity build, paintball and more. The board is in the process of planning out the full spring semester.
Growing Future Leaders
Stephanie Arkin, Hillel's vice president of programming, said the growth of the level of involvement has sparked students' interest to become involved.
"There is so much positive energy at Hillel events that students want to become active members and run for leadership board positons," Arkin said.
Hayet said she loves when people ask how they can get involved, because those are the people who will help Hillel grow when she graduates. "I am excited to watch Bama Hillel continue to grow with new ideas and leadership in the future," she said.
A recent report justifies that interest in Hillel and membership will continue to grow. According to Bama Hillel, UA's Jewish population has increased from 700 to 900 students over the past few years. Weekly Shabbat dinner attendance has increased this year with 60 to 80 people attending on Friday evenings.
Allen said he is most excited about the freshmen class at Hillel, as they are the future leaders of Hillel. "The number of Jewish students in the class of 2018 is very large, and there is a lot of potential with them," Allen said. "Our freshman representatives are really excited to get a taste of the behind the scenes action at Hillel."
Freshmen representatives get the opportunity to attend board meetings and contribute their ideas to different board positions such as programming, public relations and membership.
"I love being involved with Hillel because I feel at home with the Jewish community," said freshmen representative Katie Kalisher. "I grew up in Dallas with a large Jewish community so it's very different coming here. We're a small, but tight-knit community."
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