For millions of young Americans, college represents the first step toward adulthood. The American Jewish community does particularly well in sending its children to college: 400,000 young Jewish adults attend college, 10,000 at Illinois colleges alone. Today, these students have the opportunity to learn more about their faith and culture thanks to the work of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF) and its partner, the Hillels of Illinois, a branch of the international organization that offers programs, fellowship, and opportunities at college campuses around the world. While JUF helps organizations like Jewish Child & Family Services reach Chicagoland Jews under the age of 18, its work with Hillel allows it to help Jews as they navigate the period between childhood and adulthood.
In fact, the Jewish mission for representation and Jewish education on college campuses began in Illinois, with the opening of the first Hillel at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The same mission continues today, as the Hillels of Illinois strive to reach every Jewish student across the state. Furthermore, for students in Chicagoland and across the state, JUF offers a variety of other programs and services in order to help ensure that Jewish college students can learn to become the Jewish leaders of the future.
Hillel, Then and Now
In 1923, Rabbi Benjamin Frankel completed his training at rabbinical school and took over a congregation in Champaign, Illinois. Frankel accepted the position in order to work with college students. He was driven by the desire to ensure that Jewish students would have the opportunity to deepen their faith and strengthen their ties with the larger Jewish community, which led to the creation of Hillel at the University of Illinois’ campus in Urbana-Champaign. A year later, Jewish student Norman De Nosaquo founded the second Hillel at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and by 1939, Hillel had grown to include 12 campus foundations, with 18 so-called “Hillel Extension Units” planned.
Hillel has grown by leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings. The 1960s saw Jewish Baby Boomers flooding college campuses, requiring even further expansion. By the 1990s, it had grown to the point that it left its parent organization, B’nai B’rith, to form Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Through programs such as Hillel’s Alternative Spring Break and Hillel’s Ask Big Questions, the organization has risen to national prominence. Now, nearly a century after its inception, Hillel serves as the cornerstone of Jewish collegiate life on hundreds of campuses across the world.
The Hillels of Illinois have been particularly successful. The school where Hillel started now has the Cohen Center for Jewish Life, while students in the greater Chicago area enjoy institutions such as Fiedler Hillel Center at Northwestern University and Newberger Hillel Center at the University of Chicago, as well as numerous other branches of the organization that are joined together by Metro Chicago Hillel. The Hillels of Illinois currently conduct their work as a department of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and as such, it has many opportunities to work with the JUF to support Jewish students.
Hillel and JUF Focuses on Jewish Internships with Lewis Program
One of the flagship Hillel/JUF programs is the Harriet and Maurice Lewis Summer Intern Program (LISP), which has been providing eight-week internships to students since it was founded in 1987. Every year, between 30 and 40 college students earn the opportunity to work and study at Jewish nonprofit organizations across Chicago, and more than 700 students have taken the opportunity to learn and grow since the program was introduced. In addition to giving students the chance to gain the necessary experience to become valuable members of the Jewish community after graduation, LISP ensures that Chicagoland Jewish organizations have the opportunity to benefit from the services of some of the most qualified young people in the region.
Recently, LISP decided to expand its services, creating a second track for the program. During the summer of 2015, LISP gave seven students the chance to work in the for-profit sector with jobs at Jewish businesses in the marketing, health care administration, real estate, and finance industries. For 2016, LISP plans on turning this experiment with for-profit internships into a permanent part of the program while simultaneously doubling the number of non-profit internship placements.
Other College Services Offered by JUF
In addition to LISP, JUF and Hillel have worked together to offer a variety of other programs aimed at college students. Hillel’s Birthright Israel program remains enormously popular, and the 2014-2015 school year saw over 1,200 Chicagoland students travel to Israel. JUF also offers numerous other opportunities for students to travel abroad, including assistance in applying for scholarships, jobs at camps like Kefiada in Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir, and mission opportunities through JUF.
At home, JUF has also continued to expand the Israel Education Center’s services, ensuring that Jewish students on Illinois college campuses have the tools they need to advocate for their homeland. The organization has strived to ensure that every Jewish student in the greater Chicago region has the opportunity to go to college. The Ehrlich Student Loan Program, established in 2004, offers subsidized loans to Jewish students from Chicago.