What started as “Milgrom Shabbat,” an annual gathering to remember and honor long-time Hillel director Rabbi Louis Milgrom, has quickly turned into the single largest Jewish gathering each year on the University of Minnesota campus. Thanks to a creative vision from third-year executive director Benjie Kaplan, and strong student leadership, the event has outgrown its home for the last two years, TCF Bank Stadium, and will be moving to the McNamara Alumni Center on May 5.
The event, now called Maroon and Gold Shabbat, will feature a Shabbat service led by the Jewish acapella group The Chai Notes, inspiring messages from students, annual leadership awards, and over 500 students, alumni, parents and friends bringing in the Sabbath together. “It’s a night to celebrate another amazing year of Jewish life on campus while honoring our past and present leaders and welcoming in the Sabbath as a community,” said Kaplan.
In 2015, the first Maroon and Gold Shabbat was planned for 150 attendees but drew more than 300. This year Hillel expects to sell out the 550 seat alumni center.
“That it has grown this much in the last three years is a sign that we are doing something right,” said Kaplan. “Hillel is glad to be doing our part to sustain and build pride in Judaism and the University through this extraordinary student-driven Shabbat gathering.”
Ron Zamansky, Hillel’s outgoing board president said that in the wake of increased anti-Semitism on campus this year, “Maroon and Gold Shabbat is about the students. It brings the community together to tell the students that we have their back.”
One of the highlights of the event is Hillel’s annual Rabbi Louis Milgrom Memorial (student) Leadership Award, which is given to one student each year who embodies Hillel’s mission of ensuring that every student makes an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. Rabbi Milgrom had been the director of Minnesota Hillel for 27 years when he retired in 1973.
The two prior recipients of the Milgrom award have been Minnesota natives Sami Rahamim (last year) and Jeff Lifson (2015). The recipient is always a surprise, and will be announced at this year’s event. Milgrom’s son Aaron will be on hand to help bestow this year’s honors.
“Jeff was recently elected to the Hillel board of directors, and Sami is now a member of the Hillel International Board of Directors,” noted Kaplan. Hillel student president Dylan Singer, who will be going to work for a different Hillel upon graduation added, “I’m glad to see recipients taking on roles beyond campus. It means Hillel’s leadership development programming is working.”
The other honor being bestowed at Maroon and Gold Shabbat is the Martin and Esther Capp Community Leadership Award, which goes to a community leader who has made a lasting impact on Jewish campus life. This year’s recipient, as he completes a two-year presidential term which involved a major revisioning of the organization, will be Ron Zamansky. Lisa Capp, the daughter of former Hillel president (1969-1973) and philanthropist Martin Capp, will present the award which was named for her parents in appreciation of their longtime support of Hillel, including a major renovation of the Hillel building in 2015. The award will be a little more special than usual this year as the two families have a long-standing relationship. Zamansky’s father, Max, was the bookkeeper for Martin Capp’s homebuilding business starting in the early 1950s, and in 1973, upon completion of his term as Hillel president, Max and other community leaders honored Martin at Hillel’s annual fundraiser.
“I have so much respect for the Capp family,” Zamansky said. “It’s a very meaningful connection [between our families].”
Said Kaplan: “It will be a great thrill, 45 years later, to see these families recognized together, again, for their support of Minnesota Hillel and the Jewish students at the U.”
The Capp Award is not just in recognition of Zamansky’s two years as Hillel president though. The last two years have been a time of significant change for Hillel, and beyond all the great work being done, Zamansky says he is proudest of the rebranding that took place under his watch, transforming the University of Minnesota Hillel Foundation into Minnesota Hillel. The change is far from mere semantics; it signaled a change in focus, and extends Hillel’s reach to Jewish students around the state, not just to those in Dinkytown.
“It was a strong statement,” he said. “There were Jewish students throughout the state that could benefit from the programs of Minnesota Hillel.” The Minnesota Hillel board set out on visits across the state this year to learn exactly how. Having now completed most of these visits, Zamansky says, “What we found was a very welcoming hand where these Jewish students at campuses throughout the state were so pleased that Minnesota Hillel had reached out to them and that programming was on the way.”
With this continued growth, Minnesota Hillel may someday need to rebrand Maroon and Gold Shabbat once again and seek an even larger venue; “Perhaps the Great Minnesota Shabbat Together is in our future?” said Kaplan.
For more information or to purchase tickets for Maroon and Gold Shabbat, go to the event website.