By Gabriel Weintraub
The University of Maryland Hillel is already one of the most thriving Hillels in the country, home to over 6,500 Jewish students on campus, including an average of 500 celebrating Shabbat each week. When you add in parents and siblings, Hillel was sure to be one of the most popular spots to visit over Family Weekend, which took place Oct. 11-13.
“It was a great weekend. It was cool for us, as staff, to meet parents and tell them how great their students are. We get a better sense of where the students come from,” said Seth Finkelstein, Jewish Student Life Coordinator at Hillel.
Hillel kicked things off Friday with an Open House and Reception from 3:15 to 4:30 before dinner and services at night. Just like every Friday night, there were reform, conservative and orthodox prayer options. However, due to the expected rise in attendance, Hillel sponsored two dinner shifts at 6:00 and 8:00.
“It’s healthy that everyone can pray in the way that they feel comfortable praying and it’s great that everyone has a place under the same roof. Everyone is somewhat close and there is a real sense of community,” said Ari Neuman, JLIC Orthodox Rabbi and Educator.
Hillel also held Shabbat morning services at 9:30 on Saturday, followed by a Shabbat Lunch. Additionally, there were two information sessions later in the afternoon regarding “Taglit-Birthright Israel” and Alternative Break. To closeout the weekend, families were welcome to a bagel brunch on Sunday.
Despite the positive energy and influx of students and families, one constant struggle facing Hillel is that it is outgrowing its building.
“The space is limited, but we are more than happy to deal with the fact that it’s a little cramped for parents to come. It’s very important that parents come,” said Rabbi Neuman.
Due to this, Hillel has been challenged to do outside programming, including North Campus meals, Greek Shabbats and even a second family weekend.
Hillel’s annual A Cappella Family Weekend will take place November 1-3 and is often equally, if not more popular than the main Family Weekend. A Capella Family Weekend was originally created for families who couldn’t make the first one as regular Family Weekend usually takes place over Sukkot or the High Holidays. This year, Hillel will have a big dinner on Friday night with teasers from three A Capella groups: Kol Sasson, Mezumenet and Rak Shalom. The full concert will take place Saturday night at the UMD Memorial Chapel and may include groups from other universities as well.
“A Capella Family Weekend is definitely our big parents thing and we encourage families to register,” said Seth.
Debbie Goldschlag, a junior supply chain management major, said that her parents didn’t come to Hillel for Family Weekend, but are planning to attend the A Capella weekend in November.
“It becomes crowded, so this is a good way to split it up so not everyone is coming for one weekend,” said Debbie.
Outside of these two weekends, Hillel continues to make a push toward connecting with families and building an even larger network. A parent newsletter goes out once a month, which is a big part of Hillel’s development strategy.
“[Family Weekend] was one of the largest Shabbat programs I can ever remember. We’ve really put in a lot of effort and done a good job,” said Finkelstein.