Jewish Life on Campus Reborn

After months of methodical planning, creative design and a whole lot of patience, Minnesota Hillel is hosting its grand reopening on Sept. 25 on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus to celebrate its rebranding and resurgence.

Besides a snazzy building update featuring all new flooring, furniture and decoration — including the removal of the infamous “Come to Hillel… even though your mother told you to” sign out front — the group is finding its official role at the University of Minnesota and surrounding campuses as the hub for Jewish student life.

Minnesota Hillel kicked off the year with its annual Welcome Back BBQ this year with a raffle and t-shirt giveaway, and over 200 attendees.

The event’s success is just a snippet of a recent uptick in Jewish life on the University of Minnesota’s campus. Along with boasting the largest freshman class in recent years at the U, the school’s Jewish attendance seems to have increased, and interest in meeting other Jewish students is at an all-time high, leading to a growth in student-led and Jewish-centered programming.

For the first time in years, for example, the building hosted services and activities to celebrate each day of the High Holidays, and will continue to do so when Sukkot kicks off Monday, partnering with Jewish and semi-Jewish fraternities, Alpha Epsilon Pi and Sigma Alpha Mu, respectively, to ring in the harvest festival.

The year also kicked off with the introduction of three new Minnesota Hillel staff members to work on student and community engagement, Jewish programming and Israeli learning, and a restructuring of the student team to offer over 20 internships to students hoping to engage their peers in Jewish life on campus.

While Hillel is focused on undergraduates, the changes are also being felt in the lives of graduate students and young Jewish professionals in the TC.

Though “Jewish Grads TC” exists solely as a Facebook page to share and invite Jewish young adults and their friends to “hang outs” across the cities and on Twin Cities campuses, its organizers say they’re not looking for anything more formal.

On the page, which hosts a total of 103 members, graduate students and Jews in their 20’s and 30’s can post information about happy hours, game day parties and just about anything and everything in between to let other Jews know where the party, Shabbat, or study sesh will be.

Despite lacking pre-planned programming, an official organization and board members, the Facebook group offers a diverse set of Jews looking to find their place in the Twin Cities a forum on which to connect — and, of course, those students looking for a formal setting can visit Minnesota Hillel.

The resurgence in Jewish student life is a trend stretching further than just the University of Minnesota campus, with a recent Hillel renovation at the University of Miami and in Florida, the anticipated opening of a Chabad house on the University of California-Riverside campus and a nearly 40 percent increase in Jewish involvement on campuses nationwide over the last five years.

Looking for a place to celebrate Shabbat, holidays or socialize? Or, are you interested in attending a Minnesota Hillel Birthright trip? Check out Minnesota Hillel, Jewish Grads TC or Chabad at the U of M for more information on upcoming events and opportunities.