Jewish Campus Life Revisited

To date, our Federation has distributed nearly $1.2 Million in COVID related emergency funds. This past week we approved a new allocation to the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center to help them strategically position themselves for the orientation of incoming freshmen. Every year, freshmen come to Pitt, CMU, Duquesne, Point Park, Chatham and our other local institutions of higher learning. They move into dorms. They have roommates. They walk around campus and see the “tabling” where organizations set up shop to encourage newbie students to engage with them. Our Hillel JUC holds a bagel brunch for new students and their families. They sponsor a huge Shabbat dinner for all the freshmen students on the first Shabbat they are on campus.

This year, it’s all different. No roommates. Different move in protocols. No big Shabbat dinner. Students spread out beyond dorms into hotels.

Our Hillel JUC staff and volunteers developed new strategies to connect with these Jewish students. In addition, we know that some Pittsburgh college aged students who attend schools elsewhere may find themselves living in Pittsburgh in their childhood bedrooms taking classes remotely. This gives Hillel JUC staff an additional group of young people to engage. Remember, over 90% of Jewish kids attend university. That means that we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to awaken Jewish interest in nearly every Jew while they are studying in college. If we miss the chance when the new students arrive, we may lose them completely.

So much of what we think about with the COVID crisis is appropriately related to those in desperate need of food, money for housing, and PPE gear. For our Federation, there is another critical consideration around keeping Jews connected Jewishly. We must address both the direct human needs while also caring about the spiritual, religious, and belonging needs of our community. This grant demonstrates how we are trying to balance out the two as we keep our current Federation vision statement for Jewish Pittsburgh front and center: a thriving, vibrant and engaged Jewish community.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom. Wear your mask!

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