Rutgers Hillel inaugurates new student president
Benjamin Bass, the newly elected president of Rutgers Hillel for 2018-2019 and a School of Arts and Sciences junior, talked about his personal experience and history with Rutgers Hillel, his goals as president and upcoming events at the center.
“Rutgers Hillel is a thriving, dynamic, diverse Jewish community dedicated to exploring and celebrating Judaism,” according to its website. Its building, the Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House, is located at 70 College Ave.
Bass said that all students — not only the Jewish ones — can benefit from the mentoring done by the student leaders and the staff.
Rutgers Hillel elections took place on Thursday, March 22, when Bass was elected president for the 2018-2019 year. He has been involved with Hillel since his first week of school at Rutgers in 2015.
Since then, Bass has been extremely active in Hillel, serving as reform co-chair his sophomore year, being a part of Birthright Israel last year and serving as treasurer this year. He explained how Hillel has helped shape who he is.
He said that he has always been an active member in the Jewish community, explaining how he attended summer camps, was involved in youth group and worked and taught at his local synagogue at least five days a week in high school. Joining Hillel was naturally his next step.
“I’ve always been involved with the Jewish community and it wasn’t really a question,” Bass said.
He has many goals for maintaining and broadening the Jewish community. One of these goals is to attract more students, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
“As president, I want to make Hillel a more welcoming community and try to bring students into Hillel, Jewish and non-Jewish students, so that they’re further engaged. They can learn more about Judaism and explore themselves,” he said.
Another goal Bass has is to expand Hillel, which is mostly College Avenue focused, to other campuses. He plans on hosting tabling events with Birthright, which he says is one of the biggest tools Hillel has to engage other students.
“Birthright Israel is an innovative partnership between the people of Israel through the government of Israel, private philanthropists through the Birthright Israel Foundation and Jewish communities around the world," according to Hillel's site. This partnership allows Jewish people between the ages of 18-26 to travel to Israel for free.
Bass discussed how Hillel's community is representative of the diversity in New Jersey and at Rutgers specifically.
Paulee Manich, Rutgers Hillel president for 2017-2018 and a School of Arts and Sciences senior, agreed that the Jewish community at Rutgers is strong, vibrant and diverse.
Something else that is unique at Rutgers, he said, is the presence of a secular Jewish life. He explained how it is not only religious students who are involved in Jewish life at Rutgers.
“It’s clear at Rutgers, and it’s also clear in New Jersey, that Jews and non-Jews have excellent relations and unfortunately that’s not the case everywhere you go,” Manich said.
Bass and Manich both said that they think the Jewish community is gaining more recognition thanks to the new Hillel building on College Avenue.
“I think the Jewish community has always been strong, however, we are now much more visible on campus. With our Hillel building right in the center of College Ave, we have been able to welcome more people (both Jewish and non-Jewish) into our community,” Manich said.
Shayna Lowenstein, an active member of Rutgers Hillel and a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, also recognized how the Jewish community has been thriving, especially since the opening of the Hillel building.
“I think the community is definitely growing and because of the growth, people on campus are being even more accepting,” Lowenstein said.
Although Bass acknowledges the growing recognition of the Jewish community, he still thinks that there is room for more progress and improvement.
Hillel will continue to host Shabbat dinners every Friday night, which 300-500 students typically attend. The organization has also had rabbis periodically come to teach and speak with students.
This week there will also be free food being offered to Jewish students for Passover. In addition, there is an Israel Independence Day party coming up on Friday, April 20, from 1 to 4 p.m. There will be a camel, good food, music and Israel-affiliated organizations present at the carnival, Bass said.
“We really want to continue the work that we’re doing,” Bass said. “We have probably 20 events a week, including Shabbat dinners, services, everything.”