As the University of Oregon’s fall quarter began drawing to a close, Oregon Hillel Executive Director Andy Gitelson enjoyed a rare quiet afternoon in his office, reflecting on the busiest High Holiday season of his three years in Eugene.
“What we’ve seen overall is more and more different students engaging in smaller-scale programs, which is great,” Gitelson said. “Two years ago, we really focused on small programs we could handle with our staff size, so we cut a lot of the weekly programming down. This year, with the additional staff, it’s been great. We’re definitely headed where we want to be in numbers of engagement and depth of engagement.”
Largely due to fraternity and sorority rush events, attendance fluctuated at weekly Shabbat events and other Hillel staples such as volunteer shifts at Food for Lane County and Director of Student Leadership and Learning Amanda Weiss’ weekly Facetime and Fro-Yo sessions. However, Gitelson noted numbers were still up across the board.
He singled out the estimated 35-40 students who showed up for Shabbat services and dinner on Friday, Oct. 14. The Oregon football team had a televised game against the California Golden Bears the same night, so attendance at Hillel was about half its normal size. But Gitelson said just two years ago that would have been considered a normal attendance for a Friday night.
“There’s always going to be conflicts with students, so we’re trying to develop as many different touch-points as we can,” Gitelson said. When Gitelson makes reference to increased staff size, he’s not only talking about new Director of Student Engagement Becca Marx, but a stable of student interns more than double the size of previous years. Marx in particular has been instrumental in putting on those smaller, weekly programs Gitelson mentioned, including a “Bagels with Becca” meet-and-greet on campus and a Mitzvah Milers group with the goal of training to run a 5K race.
Marx also partnered with Jewish graduate students and recent college graduates in the Eugene-Springfield area to form “Jewgene,” a social and networking group for young adults outside the general age range of Hillel programming. “It was a lot of hats for both Andy and Amanda to wear before I came,” Marx said. “Having someone focused on engagement, meeting as many students as possible and helping them in a way that’s best for them – that’s the aspect that I love in my career choice.”
Now that the pressure put on everyone’s schedule by the High Holidays and rush season is over, Gitelson and the Oregon Hillel staff are looking forward to furthering connections between themselves and Hillel regulars, as well as serving as conduits for Jewish students to forge their own.
All hands will be on deck for the annual Ski Retreat weekend in mid-January, when around 70 students and Jewish community members travel to the Oregon Cascades for a few days of fun in the snow and intimate Jewish conversations. “Ski Retreat is always one of those high-intensity, fun events,” Gitelson said. “Students can study, but they can also participate in meditation groups, skiing and other activities. It really is a quick pickup for us early on after the break.”
Will Rubin is a senior at the University of Oregon with a major in journalism and an internship at Oregon Hillel. A lifelong resident of Eugene, Will has covered the Oregon Ducks for the Oregon Daily Emerald and AddictedToQuack.com, and currently writes for DuckTerritory.com. In the future, he hopes to write for a major metro publication or work for a collegiate athletic department.