Hillel Winterfest Logo
(Hillel International)

Rabbi Benjamin Berger, Hillel International’s vice president for Jewish education, believes Winterfest can help with the dramatic increase in mental health concerns for college students.

Hillel International has launched its first-ever “Winterfest” throughout the month — virtually connecting students through small group experiences at 85 campuses.

University of Michigan Hillel is participating in Winterfest, and Rabbi Lisa Stella, U-M Hillel’s director of religious life & education, knows how valuable these opportunities are in a time where it’s difficult for students to learn and bond in ways they’re used to.

“These learning experiences have been a way for students to connect with each other, build community and also develop their Jewish identity further,” Stella said.

U-M Hillel is doing a couple programs through Winterfest, including “New Year’s Boot Camp for the Soul,” a program where students received daily messages in the first week of January including songs, podcasts and exercises to practice mindfulness and work on character traits, including gratitude and generosity.

Another program is a cooking class called “Knead to Know,” which started with a latke-making class for Chanukah. Every class is themed either for a holiday or a Shabbat experience.

Rabbi Benjamin Berger, Hillel International’s vice president for Jewish education, believes Winterfest can help with the dramatic increase in mental health concerns for college students.

“The reality is this situation has been hard on college students. There’s a profound sense of loneliness they’re feeling. One of the ways Hillel has been really effective over the course of the pandemic has been through the development of small group learning,” Berger said.

Events at Capitol

Hillel International is also using Winterfest as an opportunity to be responsive to the dramatic and traumatic events of the moment, and quickly developed a teaching session about the defilement of the U.S. Capitol.

Berger said the teaching tied in Jewish history, Jewish text and what prayer looks like in times of crisis, having the students develop their own prayer for the nation in this moment.

“We put that out there to all these campuses saying, ‘use this as you wish,’” Berger said. “Our teaching is a way of processing and providing a Jewish sense on what’s going on in this moment in our country.”

Hillel International will go back into its regular programming in February. Representatives for Michigan State Hillel and Hillel of Metropolitan Detroit told the Jewish News they are not participating in Winterfest.

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