Hillels in Georgia Expand, Welcome New Directors
Atlanta Jewish Times (July 29, 2021)
Hillels of Georgia is growing. One college got its first house; another bought a bigger one. And new directors were added to oversee future growth.
The AJT captured the next step of growth at Georgia College & State University in the modest town of Milledgeville, Ga. It started in 2008 with a small group formed by Natalie Goodrich, who initiated “the small and mighty Hillel,” welcoming Jewish students into her home for Shabbat and holiday dinners. The newly purchased Hillel house is named after her.
Flash-forward some years later. Karen Berman volunteered to become the Hillel faculty advisor at GCSU, where she is also chair of the theater and dance department. In a virtual interview with the AJT, she recalled, “We celebrated some holidays and hosted Jewish game nights, but often we didn’t have a space to meet. We had our lox and bagels ‘meet and greet’ at the theater department; …it wasn’t conducive. It was not the way to do things, considering that we have wonderful activities.”
For more than 12 years, Berman spoke with the school’s president Steve Dorman about the necessity of a Hillel house. “He always asked me if I found a house.” Dorman was very supportive, she stressed. In fact, when Hillel encountered an anti-Semitic incident on campus, Berman countered with interfaith dinners twice a year, bringing together various cultures and religious backgrounds to celebrate their holidays.
“Dr. Dorman came to every one of those dinners. He was just so supportive and loved the wonderful things that I do for the Jewish students,” Berman said.
Other events focused on Holocaust history, and she insisted on planting thousands of daffodils in memory of Jewish children who died in the Holocaust as part of the Am Yisrael Chai Daffodil Project with GCSU alum Mike Weinroth, who brings Holocaust exhibits to campus from The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust.
Preparing for her retirement from GCSU, Berman knew her mission wasn’t complete; she wanted a Hillel house. “I was not going to stop giving. It was vital for the students to celebrate their identity away from home.”
She finally caught a break when colleague Amy Pinney announced she was leaving her house near Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion and wanted Berman to take a look before it went on the market.
After a couple of months and consultation with the school’s president and the college foundation office, the university put in the offer, though it was higher than they expected, Berman said. The house was purchased and renovated, but Berman knew she had to strategize on finding donors to cover the costs of the rent, food and various activities.
Weinroth referred Berman to Hillels of Georgia CEO Elliot Karp and she developed a PowerPoint presentation. “I showed him all the activities, art exhibits, the house and everything I have directed.”
She stressed that there were about 200 Jewish students on campus. “We have no support and no money,” Berman said, adding that she often used her own money. “We had a tiny budget from school, but it hardly paid for anything.”
Karp said, “Dr. Berman has done a yeoman’s job over a decade as the faculty advisor, as a volunteer, to spearhead the initiation at GCSU, shepherding several generations of students.”
Karp and Berman discussed budget. “We gave them a significant budget for the house and that’s when I started the negotiation on the house with the university’s foundation,” Karp recalled. He helped arrange the lease agreement. “They were generous and made modifications to the house in order to make it safe and secure.”
The students also received a $10,000 budget for furnishings inside the 1,500-square-foot house, such as bean bags chairs, a flat-screen TV, desks, and ping-pong tables. Hillel also collaborated with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s community security team. “We made our necessary arrangement and modifications to help secure the facility as well as establishing a positive partnership with GCSU’s police department,” Karp said.
Once Berman retired, GCSU Executive Director of Student Engagement Emily Jarvis stepped in. Dorman asked her to assume the role soon after she began her student engagement position. “I was eager for the chance to work directly with a student group and excited to explore Jewish life, though I am not Jewish.”
In an interview with the new Hillel advisor, Jarvis said that her mission for the upcoming years includes making the house “a visible and supportive space for Jewish students” and using it as “an emblem of Jewish students life at GCSU.”
Aside from the interfaith dinners initiated by Berman, Jarvis expressed that “many participants return for subsequent programs like our Israel Festival.”
Abbie Frankel, president of GCSU’s Hillel, said “Emily has been such an unbelievable blessing. … She truly cares about her students.”
Frankel continued, “The house is huge and before the house, they couldn’t always find a space to have Shabbat dinners or other activities. Many events had to be canceled or if students could not host Shabbat or a holiday dinner, it would simply be canceled.” Frankel believes that the house opens an array of opportunities. “We had to rely on if the kitchen would be available for us, or if we ordered, we did not know where the food came from.” Now Hillel can cook in their kosher kitchen, host Shabbat and provide a safe space for students to study, she said.
One of the distinct features of the new house is the mural of Jerusalem and the school’s mascot painted by Artists 4 Israel. “This house is going to have so many great memories for generations to come.”
Karp is also trying to buy a larger Hillel house for the University of Georgia. “We are in the process of raising funds for the renovations of a new house.” Still in their quiet phase of the fundraising effort, Hillels of Georgia is speaking to major donors and funders with particular interest in UGA and “the future vitality of Hillel,” he said, adding that the project could run into the five to seven-figure range in the future. The current house is 3,200 square feet and the new house will be 10,000 square feet, Karp said.
“The new purchased house will be in front of the freshman hall. … Many freshmen who come into UGA might be a little frightened and thus this is a great home for them to land in.”
Aside from the new Hillel house at UGA, the organization appointed new directors at UGA, Kennesaw State University and Emory University. Roey Shoshan left UGA Hillel to direct Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ southeast region with his former assistant Jeremy Lichtig assuming the reigns as the new director. Lichtig said in an interview with the AJT that his first goal in this new position is to “facilitate a successful transition back to in-person programming and engaging freshmen and many sophomores on campus for the first time. To do this, it will be crucial to have an effective and devoted professional team. I am excited to have my colleague Mara Zeichner as my new assistant director and to welcome two new amazing staff members Hannah Margolis and Ruth Gal Gabriel to our Hillel at UGA staff team. I am confident they will each excel in their new roles and help propel Hillel at UGA forward.
“Together we have a great combination of passion, commitment, institutional knowledge and new ideas. As director I am looking forward to creating an atmosphere of excitement and quality surrounding our work, where students and staff alike have a great time.”
Hillels of Georgia is supported, in part, by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. Karp said, “We are a beneficiary partner, and the Federation is a significant investor in the Hillels of Georgia, providing us with unrestricted funding as well as designating projects and grants.” That includes about $300,000 in grants for “unrestricted general purposes and programs,” along with $100,000 in grants in promoting the Onward Israel program for summer internships.
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