The Conspiracy

Pay students to get students to be Jewish, Hillel says [URJ Biennial, day 2]

Yesterday, I talked about the uncertain future of college Jews in organized Reform Judaism. Now there may be hope, but from Hillel rather than Union for Reform Judaism, whose biennial convention I’m reporting from.

About five years ago, Hillel realized there was a dirth of Jewish life on college campuses. When they asked themselves how best to reach out to students, the answer was obvious: use students.

However, they had their hurdles. At the URJ Biennial, Associate Vice President for Student Engagement at Hiller Jennifer Zwilling told a room of college students and parents of students that Hillel has a stigma it is trying to fight. Students at the Biennial said Hillel was seen as conservatively Jewish, intimidating and hyper-focused on Shabbat services.

Hillel has since worked to counteract that image and simultaneously increase Jewish life on college campuses. Across 39 universities, 933 Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative interns, paid by Hillel, have worked with “senior Jewish educators” with a simple mission: get your Jewish friends, especially your Reform Jewish friends, involved in Judaism on campus.

“The world is flattening. People’s networks are diffuse and out there. It [CEI] builds upon kind of what’s already out there in the general society and to use people’s social networks as the building grounds to create Jewish life for people on their own terms,” Zwilling told New Voices.

Since then, the program has been an unmitigated success, according to Zwilling.

Hillel reports that:

When CEI is present on a campus…

  • …greater numbers of students are engaged in Jewish life
  • …students with weaker Jewish backgrounds exhibit high levels of Jewish growth
  • …those already active in Jewish life become mere effective leaders of Jewish life
  • … interns stay involved in Jewish life after the program ends.

A program like this has a lot of promise to move beyond Hillel, Zwilling said. For example, a pilot URJ/Hillel Reform Engagement Intern program hires three interns at a price tag of $3,200 per intern. The interns currently at Cornell University, the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania are charged with making 60 students more involved in Jewish life. 20 of those students have to be Reform.

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One Older Response to “Pay students to get students to be Jewish, Hillel says [URJ Biennial, day 2]”

  1. BH
    February 22, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    This whole model of paying students to be Jewish is a little worrying to me. Many studies have proven that paying people to to do something actually decreases their willingness and interest (see for an analog in the campus kiruv system). And what kind of negative messages about Judaism is this sending – that we’ll even pay you if you do something Jewish with your friends?? Furthermore, paying totally uninvolved students to engage their peers might allow you to reach a lot of uninvolved students, but what sort of engagement is actually happening? Is it substantive? Meaningful? Sustainable? Or an inefficient use of a lot of Jewish communal money? I think (and know) that there are other models which can have more of an impact for a lot less money…

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