Despair is never justified. Even if your life has been scarred by misfortune, lacerated by pain, and your chances of happiness seem gone forever, there is still hope. The next chapter of your life can be full of blessings.
— Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
The history of the Jewish people teaches us that courageous leadership, faith and hope will carry us through the current crisis of the coronavirus pandemic. Through every communal trauma, we have found resilience through innovation and renewal. As this pandemic brings daily life as we know it to a jarring halt, we must adapt and create a new sense of normalcy – whether it’s temporary or extended.
We owe it to the thousands of college students in San Diego who rely on Hillel for our caring and compassionate presence on campus every day to meet their fundamental need for community. Hundreds of students look forward to seeing their friends at Shabbat dinners or at a Jewish learning workshop at the Melvin Garb Hillel Center, to bake challah at the Potiker House or to meet up with their Hillel director for a coffee date on campus. We provide an important structure to their lives that has suddenly been shattered.
Educational institutions are clearly bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s disruptions. Hillel must make radical changes to how we support students — but not whether we support them
Hillel of San Diego is fully committed to creating virtual experiences through the novel use of technology to bring students together at their greatest time of need.
In this moment of deep uncertainty, Hillel of San Diego’s professionals are demonstrating equanimity, kindness and courage so that students get the Jewish life experiences they deserve — experiences rooted in the values of togetherness, personal growth and wellness.
In that spirit, Hillel of San Diego is going fully virtual starting Monday. Our facilities will remain closed until it is clear that it’s safe to re-open them. None of Hillel’s staff, student leaders or participants have contracted the virus (that we know of) and we hope to keep it that way with these preventative measures.
As each of the universities in San Diego halt all in-person classes, we anticipate that this transition is going to be extremely hard on students. We are committed to supporting them through the isolation, fear and trauma of this disruption in their lives. We must provide a new sense of structure that has been lost.
Our team of professionals and student leaders will be in regular contact with all Jewish students via phone, text messaging, and social media. We will offer discussion groups and Jewish learning workshops using Zoom video-conference technology. We will do Instagram Live candle-lighting for Shabbat (starting tonight!) so students can have that special time together they crave every week. We will host virtual coffee dates with students to maintain valuable relationships of Jewish mentoring. We are even planning a series of thematic virtual Passover seders via Zoom! (We’ll have to see where we hide the Afikomen.)
Our goal is to create a new sense of consistent connection so that students can find order in the chaos.
The possibilities of how we achieve this are limited only by our imaginations, and the Hillel of San Diego team is deeply creative and excited by the opportunity to be innovative.
That spirit of resiliency is what inspired our Springboard Ezra Fellow at SDSU, Shoshana Rice, to bring a lesson on courage to our in-person staff meeting yesterday – probably our last in-person one for quite a while. She reflected on an essay by Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, “Who Knows: Humility and Hope in the Story of Purim.”
When Mordechai urges Esther to reveal her identity to the King and plead on behalf of the Jewish people, he asks rhetorically, mi yodea – who knows? Maybe it was for precisely this moment, he says, that you became Queen. These two words — mi yodea — inspire Esther to overcome her fears and uncertainty.
“Esther refused to let ‘Who knows?’ become a pretext for paralysis,” Shoshana taught us. “Instead, these words persuade her to act out of love and responsibility. Esther teaches us to face radical uncertainty with radical responsibility.”
The chaos and hardship of this pandemic could easily bring us to the point of despair, but Esther’s example shows that the only justifiable choice is to persevere.
That’s what we choose for our students at Hillel of San Diego.
And we ask you to please support them in their moment of greatest need with your generous contribution. Your renewed and increased support is a strong message to the students that indeed, there is still hope and that their lives will be full of blessings.
In the coming weeks, I will keep you posted on how our new approach is working and whether new, critical needs come to our attention.
On behalf of everyone at Hillel of San Diego, I thank you for your support during this difficult time, and I wish you strength and good health.
Interim Executive Director