In February 1941, the University of Arizona Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve the establishment of the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation. The building that Hillel currently occupies on the UA campus is where it has been since 1950, across from the Student Union on Second Street and Mountain Avenue. Hillel offers a wide range of cultural, social, Israeli, religious and philanthropic programming.
Hillel is celebrating 75 years at the University of Arizona as Executive Director Michelle Blumenberg celebrates her 25th year with Hillel. A “100 Years of Celebration” event commemorating these two shared milestones will take place on Saturday, Feb. 18.
Michelle’s responsibility as executive director is to oversee all aspects of Hillel. This includes working with staff and board members, campus relations, fundraising, strategic planning and the planning of Hillel’s future. She has actually worked for the foundation for 30 years, including five years at the University of Michigan Hillel prior to moving to Tucson.
When asked about some of the changes she had seen in the past 25 years, she thinks a moment before citing students’ backgrounds: “More and more of our students are coming in with one Jewish parent – and not necessarily with a strong Jewish background. That give us more opportunities, and challenges, to engage Jewish students or help students identify as Jewish.”
The program at Hillel is always changing because it is student driven. “That’s one of the beauties of working on campus,” says Michelle. “We are always dynamic. As far as the students are concerned, when they come in on day one, this must be how it’s always been. Even though we know we might be in an era of change, for students, whatever is in front of them, that’s what they know.”
That also means that Hillel must respond quickly to change, issues on campus and issues of importance to students.
“The program staff rule is to be the advisor and help the students accomplish their goals,” says Michelle. “[We] help them write a program plan, market, do outreach – how to go from A to Z in order to be successful.”
“UA is a great campus to be Jewish, just like many other campuses,” says Michelle. “We have 3,000 Jewish undergrads. Of [those], at any given time, we know of – or we have been in contact with – probably 1,200 to 1,300 of them.”
A main focus for the 2016-17 school year is bridge-building with the other cultural centers on campus, including creating relationships with the African American Student Affairs, Hispanic Student Affairs and the LGBTQ Resource Center. “In this day and age, we all need to have open relationships with other communities on campus and I think everyone is looking to build those bridges,” says Michelle. “It’s really easy to get consumed in your own community. It takes energy and effort to walk outside of your doors. [It’s] not because people don’t want to; you just get sidetracked,” says Michelle.
Hillel held a joint event with the Black Student Union this past November. Tucson has its first-ever pair of Shinshinim (18-year-old Israelis who have graduated high school and come to the U.S. for a year of service). They were brought to the U.S. by the Tucson Jewish Community Center and the Federation. One of the students is a young Ethiopian Israeli woman named Leah Avuno. Michelle says that Jewish and African-American students enjoyed hearing from this young Ethiopian Israeli about her journey in Israel.
Hillel’s work follows its mission statement: “To facilitate the development of a vibrant, diverse, meaningful and empowered Jewish community.” Hopefully for many years to come!
100 Years of Celebration & Arsenio Hall 2017
Saturday, Feb. 18, 6-10 pm
6 pm hors-d’oeuvres and beverages at the Scottish Rite, 160 S. Scott Ave., Tucson
8 pm special performance by Arsenio Hall at Fox Tucson Theater, 17 W. Congress St., Tucson
Prices for donor packages: $250-$5,000
General admission tickets through the Fox Theater: $45 & $60
520-624-6561 or arizona.hillel.org