Building a Jewish community is no small feat. Especially when it’s on a college campus. Yet this is the goal of a relatively new initiative launched by Heart to Heart (H2H) Founder and Director Hart Levine and Dov Winston, Assistant Director of H2H. Known as the Kahal Fellowship Program, the program, now in its second year, continues the H2H mission of student-led Jewish outreach, but addresses a new demographic—the religious student with little or no campus community.
“While H2H primarily targets campuses with pre-existing Jewish communities to encourage religious students to engage their peers in Jewish life on campus, Kahal is about creating a community and resources for religious students living on campuses with little to no Orthodox structure,” says Levine. “It’s more in-reach than outreach.”
To recruit Fellows, now on fifteen campuses throughout the US and Canada that do not have an OU-JLIC presence, Levine and Winston contact gap year schools, cold call freshmen, and network with NCSY Alumni, the Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ, a popular NCSY summer program), and OU-JLIC to identify students who have leadership potential.
“I wanted to create a middle ground for my campus,” says Shaina Stasi, Kahal Fellow at University of Kansas. “There’s a Hillel and a Chabad on campus, but no JLIC. I decided that since there was no Modern Orthodox role model on campus, I should step up and be that role model.”
Once selected, the Fellows’ leadership skills are developed via training webinars and personal mentoring. Fellows are required to run a minimum of two programs a semester (such as Shabbat dinners, weeknight mishmar learning, havdalah/melavah malkah, Shabbat onegs, et cetera), attend at least two webinars, and check in with their mentors once a month. Participants receive a stipend each semester to help cover the costs of programming. And as part of the Heart to Heart network, Fellows have access to resources like a database of programming ideas, a Shabbaton guide, inter-campus networking and halachic and hashkafic guidance.
“People have told me that they really appreciate how I anticipate and provide for my community’s needs,” says Talia Weisberg, Kahal Fellow at Harvard University. “The weekly student-led ‘Lunch and Learns’ have been particularly successful.” Talia also serves as co-president of Harvard Hillel’s Orthodox Student Minyan.