Yasher koach (“good job”) to MIT Hillel! At the Hillel International Global Assembly, which took place at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, Florida on December 5–8, the group was recognized with the Award for Strengthening the Global Hillel Movement, for excellence in collaboration and community between international Hillel programs. Rabbi Michelle Fisher, executive director of MIT Hillel, and Marissa Freed, assistant director, were present to receive the honor, which was was awarded to both MIT Hillel and the chapter at Technion University in Haifa, Israel.
These groups stood out for their work on ConnecTech, a collaborative program aimed at making connections between Hillel chapters in the United States and Israel. Participating students from both MIT and Technion Hillels hold weekly Skype conversations, during which they discuss topics such as family life, education, politics, and Judaism. “We start with the basis that our students are similar, and then we use that to explore their Jewish identities as well,” said Freed. “Instead of starting with the fact that they both happen to be Jewish, we start with the fact that they both happen to be tech students.”
From these commonalities, the students learn more about each other’s cultures and build relationships even before meeting in person. “The learning topics are very synergistic with how MIT thinks about things, like responsibility for yourself and also for your community,” said Freed. “They’re things that Judaism values, but also things that MIT values.” The program culminates in two separate one-week transfers in which students from MIT Hillel visit Israel, and later, students from Technion Hillel visit Cambridge.
While birthright programs and school exchanges often focus activities on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, ConnecTech visits Haifa—Technion’s home, a hub for technology companies, and part of the so-called “Silicon Wadi.” “It’s like a whole different world of Israel you usually don’t see,” said Noam Buckman ‘16, Course 2 masters candidate and treasurer of MIT Grad Hillel. In exploring each others’ countries, ConnecTech students are able to identify similarities and differences. “MIT’s not the only school that’s doing technology. We’re not the only country that’s doing technology,” said Buckman. “It’s cool to see engineers from a different country and see that you’re learning the same things.”
"[ConnecTech] definitely embodies the spirit of connecting different people from different cultural backgrounds in a lot of ways,” said Morrisa Brenner ‘13 SM ‘17. “It does a very good job of finding two groups of people with a lot of things in common already, but who come from different societies and are able to build strong connections. . .even though they may see [things] through a different lens. One of the strengths of the program is its ability to foster discussion about where the differences lie, and how, even with different outlooks, you can end up doing very similar kinds of things.”
MIT Hillel has garnered several awards at the Hillel Global Assembly. Also this year, the group was recognized for excellence in breadth, depth, and impact. In 2012, they were honored as a “great place to work.” Two years ago, Rabbi Fisher won the Richard M. Joel Professional Exemplar of Excellence Award. And a year ago, Shoshana Gabor, director of Birthright and Israel Engagement, won another Joel Award. But this was the first time MIT Hillel has won the Strengthening Global Impact Award, one of the organization’s highest honors. “It was very exciting,” said Rabbi Fisher. “It feels really good that MIT Hillel has now not just been put on the map, but we’re leading the Hillel movement. The fact that we’ve built up this program that’s being recognized globally for the work that we do. . . It makes me so happy.”
Written by Isabella Dionne.