A Beit Midrash is filled with voices decoding ancient texts. Shabbat dinners are hosted in social halls, dorms, and apartments. Students are staging Jewish theatre productions. Small groups are gathering to listen to the Jewish journeys of faculty and university leadership.
Among the miracles of Jewish life at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design — and at other universities across the country — is the unique collaboration between Hillel and Chabad. Actually, this is no miracle at all. The Hillel/Chabad partnership is something we build and thoughtfully sustain together, season after season. It is a partnership that has transformational consequences for students, and helps infuse Jewish ideas and connectivity throughout the university ecosystem.
Here are seven shared mindsets (kavannot) that inform and shape our collaboration.
Deep seated appreciation. Beyond everything else, we recognize and admire the unique ways each organization contributes to Am Yisrael. We put time into cultivating genuine friendships and mutual respect — without which the collaborative vision would lack substance and never take root.
We are on the same team. Zooming out just a little, we see that we are a cohort of diverse Jewish professionals who have dedicated our service to emerging adults at two of North America’s most innovative university campuses: Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. We work on behalf of the same students, facing the same array of social, emotional, and historical challenges. Working together, we have realized a greater capacity to increase light in the lives of our community and the world.
Identify a shared mission. As organizations, we have different strategies and we sometimes speak in different languages, but our missions overlap in thick ways. Our goal is to increase Jewish engagement and practice, supporting students to find greater meaning in Jewish belonging, behavior, and belief.
Working together brings joy to students. Everyone expects Jewish communal divisiveness to be mapped out on university campuses. Therefore, when we build an alternative, students are relieved. When we project camaraderie, students are happy to float between Hillel and Chabad, creating relationships and growing as Jews.
Collaboration leads to strength. Whether subtle or overt, antisemitism and anti-Israel activism are real and pernicious factors on our university campuses. A resilient Hillel/Chabad partnership is a source of strength in advocating on behalf of Jewish students and responding effectively to crises. When possible, we speak with a shared voice, encouraging Jewish pride and interconnectedness, calling out anti-Jewish prejudice, and addressing anti-Israel rhetoric.
Collaboration increases lay leadership engagement. Like students, parents and alumni are inspired by our collaborative efforts to build a Jewish community. Many tell us that the Hillel/Chabad partnership on College Hill motivates them to serve as leaders and to support our missions through philanthropic investment. Our collaborative approach has nurtured Jewish innovation and creativity — which has, in turn, attracted innovative lay leaders who want to play a role in this special relationship.
No story is too small. Our advice to our colleagues is to begin where you can. Identify a project to work jointly on. Build relationships between staff. Appear in a photo together on social media. Above all, tell the story of your efforts to students and stakeholders, celebrating the growth of a new collaborative spirit in the service of Jewish students and our communities.
As the sages and rabbis remind us, the only vessel strong enough to contain blessings in this world is peace (M:Uktzin 3:12). Jewish students on College Hill today are on the receiving end of much blessing. We are proud of how the Hillel/Chabad partnership has served to increase these blessings in students’ lives, and in the life of our university community as a whole.
Rabbi Josh Bolton serves as Executive Director of Brown RISD Hillel. Rabbi Mendel Laufer is Co-Director of Chabad of College Hill.