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W&L Joins Pilot Initiative with Hillel

Washington and Lee is among a group of seven national liberal arts colleges included in a pilot initiative being undertaken by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, to enhance the experience for Jewish students on smaller campuses.

Joan Robins, the director of Washington and Lee Hillel, attended a training seminar in October as part of the initiative.

“The first training seminar offered a wonderful opportunity to meet colleagues and exchange ideas,” said Robins. “While I am familiar with Hillel’s mission and values, it was helpful to discuss ways to apply these values to my work with students. The goal is to enrich the lives of Jewish students on campus. I am already feeling the support from the cohort — W&L is going to be able to send four students on the Birthright Israel program this winter.”

The other colleges in the pilot cohort are Bowdoin College, Colgate University, Franklin and Marshall College, Lehigh University, Middlebury College, and Williams College. The campuses were selected on the basis of having one paid profession dedicated to Jewish life on campus, high alumni involvement, an open relationship with Hillel and high academic rankings.

According to Deb Geiger, assistant director of the Soref Initiative for Emerging Campuses, the goal is to increase student engagement and to double the number of Jewish students who participate in immersion experiences such as Alternative Break and Taglit-Birthright Israel.

“There is tremendous potential to develop the Jewish student populations on these campuses by applying a more strategic and focused effort,” explained Geiger. “We want to ensure that despite the small population, Jewish students feel engaged in Jewish life and have access to the same opportunities, like Taglit-Birthright Israel, as do campuses with large Jewish student populations.”

Hillel has committed to the six-institution cohort for two years and will not only work to get students in more meaningful Jewish experience on and off campus but also to provide the professional with more skills, knowledge and resources.

Washington and Lee is currently in the midst of a fund-raising campaign to build a new W&L Hillel House as an effort to help increase Jewish student enrollment and build Jewish community life at the University. The goal of the campaign is $4 million, and the effort received a boost recently from a challenge gift from Donald Childress, rector of W&L’s board of trustees. Childress made a $500,000 pledge to the project as part of his $5-million gift to the University. W&L hopes to use the Childress challenge match to complete fund-raising in early 2009 so that construction can begin next summer.