In the face of the growing influence of hate groups and the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) on college campuses, Rutgers Hillel has begun to form partnerships with Jewish federations statewide to bring Jewish life and support to thousands of college students throughout New Jersey.
On Sept. 11 Rutgers Hillel forged its newest partnership, this one with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. Greater MetroWest’s multi-campus Hillel will provide outreach and engagement to approximately 2,000 students at Rutgers-Newark; New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark; Montclair State University; Kean University, Union; and Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Madison campus.
Serving as director of the Greater MetroWest Hillel is Rebekah Adelson, a Scotch Plains native now living in Somerset who previously served as Israel programs admissions director for the Jewish National Fund.
Adelson, 30, who was hired jointly by Rutgers Hillel and the federation, will be based at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany, although she expects to spend most of her time on the road visiting her schools.
“These campuses were operating under five separate umbrellas, and now we will be able to bring them together under one umbrella,” she said in a phone interview with NJJN. “While Rutgers Hillel is so active and has so many Jewish students, my five campuses have small Jewish populations.”
Adelson said she will teach students how to run programs to attract members, arrange Birthright Israel trips, and build core leadership at each school through retreats, the first of which is scheduled for October.
“The main thing at each of these smaller schools that I’m going to be providing is support, as needed, so they can run really fun and creative Hillels on campus,” said Adelson.
Only the main campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick and Princeton University have official Hillels with full-time directors, while Drew University in Madison has a Hillel with a part-time faculty adviser, according to Rutgers Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer.
“Often students form a club on campus and call it Hillel because that’s the brand name,” he said, noting that the new partnerships would bring these students under the wing of Hillel International, providing them with services and financial support.
The Greater MetroWest partnership comes two years after Hillel formed a similar partnership with the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey to establish Hillel of Northern New Jersey serving Bergen Community College, Paramus; William Paterson University, Wayne; Fairleigh Dickinson’s Teaneck campus; and Ramapo College, Mahwah.
“It is based on the success of that partnership that other federations want to work with us and hopefully MetroWest will be as successful,” said Getraer.
He said Rutgers Hillel is now in “informal” talks with several other federations, which he declined to name, to form similar partnerships, potentially affecting 11,000 Jewish students statewide, which includes the more than 7,000 students enrolled at Rutgers New Brunswick.
In years past Greater MetroWest has provided a shaliach, or emissary from Israel, on a part-time basis to the universities and colleges. However, federation president Scott Krieger said the impetus to bring Hillel to MetroWest came last year when the BDS movement became a presence at Montclair State. In May, the Student Government Association rejected a resolution to boycott goods from Israel. Had it passed, it could have threatened study abroad programs and academic exchanges between the university and any Israel-affiliated entity, including the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Rothberg School at Hebrew University, and Kibbutzim College.
“We knew it was time to raise our level of support for our college students,” he said in a statement to NJJN. “Every college campus should be a safe place for students to learn, build leadership skills, and create community.”
Adelson, who has a certificate in educating adolescents and emerging adults from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, will be supervised by Rutgers Hillel senior associate director Rabbi Esther Reed, who told NJJN, “It’s the same model we’re doing in Bergen and Passaic where federation provides the financial and material support and office space, and we are providing the supervision and guidance.”
Greater MetroWest has committed $50,000 over a three-year period to cover salary and programming, said federation spokesperson Lauren Leon. That amount will be supplemented through grants from the Cooperman Family Fund for a Jewish Future, the Wilf family, Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation, Sharon and Steve Seiden, Arden and Alan Epstein, and Robert and Ethel Singer. Leon declined to provide the individual or total amounts of the additional gifts.
“Allowing these clubs at the schools to become official Hillels not only allows them to get money from Hillel, but because Rebekah was trained by Hillel International, she knows exactly what they need,” said Leon. “We are hoping after the three years they will become more self-sufficient, although it’s not like we won’t support them after that.”
Adelson is just beginning to meet students on the campuses, she said, some of whom are already “doing great things.” For example, Fairleigh Dickinson has been able to attract 50 students to a once-a-semester Shabbat dinner. Also, on Sept. 18, she joined students at Montclair State for a pre-Rosh HaShanah program where they ate traditional food, blew the shofar, and conducted a tashlich service (though they had to use a bucket of water in lieu of an actual body of water to symbolically cast away their sins).
As part of the new arrangement, students will have access to Greater MetroWest’s resources such as the Israeli shlichim, Community Relations Committee, and other communal organizations.