How Hillel Inspires Me


As part of our 25th anniversary series, we are featuring stories from young leaders who #MakeItHappen in their communities. This story comes to us from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus LifeHillel offers college students numerous opportunities to explore and celebrate their Jewish identities by engaging them in Jewish life on their own terms. 

Jessi Pollock, student president of Western Hillel at the University of Western Ontario, shares her story below. This article first appeared on Hillel Stories.

My Hillel story begins in the late summer of 2010. I was moving to London, Ontario from Toronto to enter my first year at Western University.

I had a strong Jewish upbringing from my 12 years of Jewish schooling, six years at a predominantly Jewish camp and countless years of involvement in my synagogue, wherein my great-grandfather, grandfather and uncles were founding members. At the time, I thought my Jewish identity–which was strongly based on my profound love of Judaism and the State of Israel–was complete and unlikely to develop any further.

Notwithstanding, I was encouraged by some older friends to join Hillel and become involved on the executive council as the co-vice president of first year students. Fast forward three years; I am now Western Hillel’s president for the 2013-2014 school year.

Last year, as Hillel’s vice president of Jewish life, I was given the opportunity with others to plan and carry out one of the most successful Holocaust Education Week programs at my university. Holocaust education and remembrance happens to be a cause very close to my heart, largely because three of my four grandparents are survivors with remarkable stories of fortitude and heroism. Without Hillel’s backing and encouragement, I would never have had the opportunity to pay tribute to my grandparents while also educating Western’s student population about the Holocaust and its lasting impact.

Through my last three years sitting on both Hillel’s executive council and general board, I’ve come to realize that I am involved in something bigger than myself. A movement, some may call it, of like-minded Jewish students striving toward a goal.

What is that goal, you may ask?

Everyone who becomes involved does so with different goals in mind. In my experience with Hillel, as each school year progresses, what starts as my goal, soon becomes the goal of other Hillel members. Indeed, I have also taken on other students’ passions as if they were my own.

That is the beauty of Hillel.

Perhaps one student may be looking to increase his or her ties with the Jewish community on campus. Maybe someone else is looking for the means to fundraise for a cause he or she feels very passionate about. Nevertheless, it is the diversity of student values, interests and aspirations that makes Hillel a platform for visionaries looking to transform their ideas into reality.

Above all, Hillel has only further motivated me to continue advocating for the Jewish community and Israel–on and off campus. And the best part is I’m just one of thousands who Hillel has inspired so deeply.

Has Jessi inspired you to #MakeItHappen? Visit the #MakeItHappen site to learn more about how you can make a difference in your Jewish community!

The Schusterman Philanthropic Network is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.