Mickey Benson
Mickey Benson

Hillel unlocks a love of Judaism in this graduating cohort.

Being involved with Hillel in college is an experience that I have tremendous gratitude and pride in. It was crucial for me to be able to cultivate a space where I could reflect on what it means to be Jewish in the diaspora and how my Jewishness impacts other intersections of my identity.

Small-town Hillel engagement is important because it offers a needed sense of community. Through Hillel, I have discovered a deep passion for advocacy and Jewish learning. What I find so beautiful about Judaism is the connectedness I feel with Kol Yisrael and the multitude of Jewish experiences. 

I feel extremely lucky to have had so many structured and informal experiences within Albion College Hillel for learning. During my college experience, I participated in three Jewish learning fellowships, two community service trips to Poland and facilitated a canine Bark Mitzvah service. 

This connection with so many incredible Jewish educators and students has made me feel supported in ways I have never felt before. While in college, I was able to hear from so many beautiful, pluralistic expressions of Jewish peoplehood. I feel a sense of security from knowing my history. The Jewish narrative is so beautiful, nuanced and complex.

Keeping kosher in a small town provided many challenges. I was lucky to have Hillel professionals to help me navigate my food access and self-advocacy needs. 

In reflection, I feel like that is the driving force behind my own goal of becoming a Hillel professional myself. This summer, I will be joining Binghamton University Hillel as an Ezra Jewish Education Fellow. Being able to engage with students about their passions and infuse Jewish learning in conversation is a skill I am extremely proud of developing as a part of my participation in a Hillel community rooted in inclusion and celebration. 

My Hillel Cohort

On top of that, I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with three fantastic MSU Hillel and HCAM graduates about their next steps regarding shaping the Jewish narrative and repairing the world. 

The first student, Caroline Strauss, is a recent graduate of Michigan State University who will be participating in the University of Michigan Jewish Communal Leadership program. She said she was drawn to the program because of the close-knit community that it provided and the opportunity for her to “deepen my Jewish learning, but also expand it and discuss topics that may be uncomfortable for some.” 

A Kalamazoo College graduate I am proud of in my graduating Hillel cohort is Audrey Honig. She will be attending Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem next year. She said she is excited to expand her comfort zone and learn more about Judaism within a welcoming community. From planning events and attending retreats, she has had many opportunities to be grounded in her Judaism. She said she believes Pardes will help to set her up for success both in future endeavors as a rabbi and as someone who enjoys learning for the sake of learning. 

Last but not least, I would like to mention Carly Fleck, a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University and upcoming Springboard Innovation Fellow at Houston Hillel. She recounted her journey from a nontraditional Jewish upbringing to a deep passion for Hillel and the Jewish community after attending a Birthright Israel trip with her sister in 2017. Since then, she joined Hillel and quickly fell in love with the sense of Jewish community that wasn’t accessible in Portage, near Kalamazoo. 

“I have already learned so much about my own Jewish journey and identity, and I wanted to explore that even further,” she said. As part of this exploration, she accepted a position through Houston Hillel as an innovation specialist. 

“I never want to leave Hillel in general as I feel it brings community and connections worldwide that I would not have otherwise,” she said. “I also never had much Israel learning/knowledge, so I love that Hillel provided programs for me to learn more about Israel and my heritage. I still have a long journey ahead and I’m still figuring out my Jewish identity, but I can’t wait to stick with Hillel and connect with other Jewish students who may be going through the same type of journey that I am.” 

It is clear how her passion for Jewish community and creativity comes through in conversation with her.

Mickey Benson is a 2021 graduate of Albion College from Portland, Ore. 

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