Stories & Voices
When a Hillel Is so Much More
July 25th, 2023

KV, an incoming fourth-year student at Queens College who is gaining a teaching certificate in social studies, experienced his first year online because of Covid. After months of isolation, he wasn’t sure how to begin to make friends when he returned to campus.

Queens College Hillel, a UJA partner, was there with open arms.

After coming to campus, KV said, “I started just coming here [Hillel]. And that's how I made all my friends. So it just keeps me from being lonely.” One of KV’s favorite memories is “making mishloach manot with my friends. And everyone was like, in a silly, goofy mood…it was just so much fun.”

UJA has long supported 11 Hillels through 17 colleges and universities across New York State, helping students find their Jewish identity and a place they can call their home away from home. And now with UJA’s help, Hillels are adding a new dimension to their work: offering employment counseling, mental health services, and digital food pantries.

All of this is in response to a UJA study that showed more than 40% of Jewish CUNY students experience food insecurity and almost 30% experience depression. The pandemic exacerbated an already difficult situation.

At Queens College, Hillel provides a community for students, offering counseling and broadening their horizons. 

UJA Federation of New York >> <p><span class="ui-provider ga b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z ab ac ae af ag ah ai aj ak" dir="ltr"><em>(left to right</em>): KV, Lauren, and Talia, students at Queens College</span></p>

(left to right): KV, Lauren, and Talia, students at Queens College

Lauren, majoring in psychology and urban studies, said that she and a Hillel staff member are a “match made in heaven.” They have weekly meetings, talking about Lauren’s life, as well as possible career paths. 

“She's a licensed mental health professional. That's what I want to do. I want to go into social work. She went to Hunter, I want to go to Hunter. She was a peer counselor. I'm a peer counselor. She's queer. I'm queer. So it's perfect.” 

For Talia, an incoming senior majoring in media studies, Hillel provides opportunities to reach students within and beyond the Jewish community. As a previous Building Bridges Interfaith Fellow for Hillel, Talia was able to deepen her understanding of the many different faiths at Queens College. One of her favorite memories is moderating an interfaith panel.

“We had a great crowd,” Talia explained. “And everyone was just non-judgmentally asking questions to the panel, and everyone could see how connected all the faiths were… it was just like the most beautiful educational experience, which inspired other people.” 

“It really fosters a community that has made me thrive in college. It's my social outlet for anything fun, or a lighthearted activity, whether it's like a bake-off or tie dying. But it also is a space for me to connect deeper with that community and also myself,” Talia said.

“I know that I can always just pop in and see someone that I love. And that makes any day better.”