With students finally back on campus, this semester we launched our first-ever Social Impact Series in order to foster new opportunities for Jewish and non-Jewish students to work together and to make a difference right here in Tempe.
The goals of this initiative are multi-faceted. First, our goal is to empower student leaders, like Zach Bell, to follow his passion for Tikkun Olam (repair the world) and to create unique opportunities for ASU students to pursue social action from a Jewish lens.
Second, our hope is that Hillel students will get to know students from different faith backgrounds in a much deeper and more meaningful way by volunteering together to create a more fair and equitable society. For example, during MLK Jr. Week of Remembrance and Action, Jewish students worked alongside students from the Muslim Student Association making bookmarks for the local United Way.
Third, our goal is to integrate Hillel more seamlessly into the broader university community by introducing students to unique opportunities on campus they might not have known about otherwise. This happens through partnerships like the one we’ve built with Changemaker Central, the ASU Arboretum, and the ASU Art Museum this spring.
One of the coolest opportunities this semester was creating an out-of-the-box “Freedom Shabbat” at the ASU Art Museum. Given that Shabbat is all about celebrating our spiritual and physical freedom, we partnered with the museum to learn about the art and history of mass incarceration by interspersing prayers, songs, and silent meditation while we viewed different art installations on this important topic. This 360-degree experiential prayer service was followed by a powerful first-person testimonial delivered by Reverend Rock Fremont, a Christian minister who has worked Arizona’s death row.
Fourth, we want to illustrate that Judaism is not limited to the walls of Hillel or any other Jewish institution. This series is meant to encourage students to integrate their secular interests and their Jewish values in a way that brings more visibility and pride to the Jewish community.
Just last week, during Purim, our students packaged over 200 meals to deliver to those in need in the surrounding Tempe community. By focusing on the tradition of matanot l’evyonim, giving charity to the poor, on the Shabbat right after Purim, we enabled students to see that Purim can both be fun and meaningful. We can dress up, let loose, and make the world a better place at the same time!
Last but not least, these projects were created as a way to foster more camaraderie and understanding between students from different faith backgrounds. We hope this will act as a kick-start for our students’ interest long-term in relational work to create a more peaceful and pluralistic society.
While many students traverse down Palm Walk, a staple path on campus, on a daily basis, they never stop to think about the beautiful date palms growing right above them. Therefore, we partnered with the ASU Arboretum to create an Interfaith Palm Tree Project in which Jewish, Christian, B’hai, Muslim, and Hindu students worked together to preserve date pollen so that we can harvest the dates again this fall, just in time for the high holidays. We ended the afternoon over snacks while discussing the religious significance of the palm tree from our different faith traditions.
We are thrilled with the outcome of these programs; they allow our Jewish community to come together and continue to build stronger relationships across campus. The projects encourage students to spend time outdoors and allow them to experience their campus and faith communities in new ways.
Through all that we do, our students are gaining the tools to understand what it means to be a Jewish citizen in the world. They can recognize that social change starts with relationship building and while that can take time, it is worth it!
Hillel at ASU is proudly sponsored by the Center for Jewish Philanthropy of Greater Phoenix.