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Highlighting Student Organization: Hillel

Written By Samantha Cobaugh, Campus Staff Writer

Students commemorate the holiday of Purim at the 2023 annual Purim Carnival hosted by W&J's Hillel. (Courtesy Regan Carlson)
MAR. 3, 2023 - On Mar. 12, Hillel will be putting on their well-known Purim Carnival in the Rossin Recreation Center, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For the last couple of years, Hillel, the Jewish organization at Washington & Jefferson College, has been putting on the Purim Carnival every spring semester, close to the Jewish holiday, Purim. Like many organizations on campus, Hillel took a big hit during the pandemic; with their executive board whittling down to three members, and a sum total of four active members (including the executive members).

However, the executive board members Stephanie Shugerman (President), Michael Toland (Vice President), and Madeline Frieser (Secretary) are determined to keep Hillel active and thriving on campus. Despite their small size, Hillel is glowing with hope and passion. This organization is extremely involved on campus; they have hosted three Bagel Brunches over the past two semesters (so far), have a booth at every fair, and participated in Holidays around the World. In addition, Hillel puts together an annual Purim Carnival, Passover Seder, Latka making sessions and Hillel regularly hosts religious services for Jewish students, so they have a safe space to practice.

Bagel Brunches have been a recent development in Hillel in the past 2022-2023 school year, funded by a generous W&J alumni donor. At these brunches, there are a variety of bagels (gluten-free options included) & spreads, lox, pomegranate seeds, and dates. Students can stop by, eat a bagel and hang out. 

“Madeline Frieser refers to this education [at events] as ‘soft learning,’ in which a comfortable cultural atmosphere is created: those who are Jewish, not Jewish, those who are practicing, or not practicing are welcomed.”
Stephanie Shugerman, the President of Hillel, discusses the Bagel Brunches, “...Hillel isn’t necessarily specific to only religiously affiliated events, or only for Jewish students…this is kind of offering something to the whole student body, the whole campus… They get to connect with us.” Michael Toland emphasizes that the purpose of the Bagels Brunches is, “...to let people know that the Jewish community does exist on campus,  even if it’s a little small.” Furthermore, the Bagel Brunches offer an educational aspect; cartoons in Hebrew are played during the Brunch, exposing students to a different culture and language. There are coloring pages at booths and educational pamphlets about holidays. Madeline Frieser refers to this education as “soft learning,” in which a comfortable cultural atmosphere is created: those who are Jewish, not Jewish, and those who are practicing, or not practicing are welcomed. The most recent Bagel Brunch (2/18), was very successful, with about 60 people coming to the brunch and engaging with the content.
“Toland explains, ‘We want to emphasize that this is a community…we are inviting the local synagogue, and the JUC [Jewish University Center] in Pittsburgh [to the Purim Carnival]."
Most prominently, the Purim Carnival is put on by Hillel, planned solely by the students in this organization. Shugerman, Toland, and Frieser have been working hard to put together this extravagant event, meeting every week for two hours at the least, and six hours at the most; planning every detail of the budget, food, decorations, activities, and more. They are wholly dedicated to the success of Hillel and this Carnival. Last year, upwards of 100 people were accounted for at the carnival and this year an even bigger turnout is to be expected. Shugerman explains the meaning of Purim, “It’s a celebratory holiday about the survival of Persian Jews…completely based on celebrating, and being happy…it involves costumes, so we are doing a costume contest.” Frieser adds, “I grew up going to Purhim carnivals…it makes me really happy that we can do it.” 

Overall, especially with this event, Hillel is pushing the idea of community. There are 11 clubs (at the moment) with booths at the carnival, and there is an intensive process of organizing booths with clubs (such as the History Club, ISA, Coloring Club, and more). Toland explains, “We want to emphasize that this is a community…we are inviting the local synagogue and the JUC [Jewish University Center] in Pittsburgh.” All executive members make it clear that everyone is invited!
"Shugerman remarks, “It is my place to be unapologetically Jewish, and be able to have that identity at the forefront, when most of the time it is not as visible as my other identities.”
Ultimately, Hillel is a crucial part of Washington & Jefferson's culture. It provides a safe space for Jewish students to be themselves and find other people in their community. When asked what Hillel means to them, Shugerman remarks, “It is my place to be unapologetically Jewish, and be able to have that identity at the forefront, when most of the time it is not as visible as my other identities”. Toland says, “I’ve always been a bit of a loner…it’s nice to know that there’s a place where I will always be welcome…the community here is amazing…I am dedicated to this club, I want it to succeed, it is a place of safety and community that I was sorely lacking on campus originally.” Frieser states, “It was always my place…some of my best memories are with the community, and I feel so connected to that…This was a place where I felt like I was myself.” 
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