By Ari Dubin
The last few months have seen tremendous changes at Vanderbilt Hillel. In addition to the bittersweet farewells we bid to last year’s seniors, and the excitement of welcoming yet another stellar class to campus, we have also said goodbye to Hillel’s beloved Assistant Director and Rabbi, Joshua Barton, while hiring Julie Sugar as our new director of Jewish Student Life.
On top of these changes, Hillel has been engaged in a long negotiation with Vanderbilt University over our future relationship and organizational structure. The conclusion of these discussions is that Hillel is venturing forth as a separate, independent entity. The Ben Schulman Center for Jewish Life will remain our home, but in all other ways Vanderbilt Hillel will now be independent of the university.
While we have worked closely with Vanderbilt to minimize any negative consequences of this new status, any time an organization experiences this sort of sudden, intrinsic change, what can be expected is the unexpected – uncertainty bearing risk as well as opportunity. Hillel’s dedicated staff, committed board of directors and inspiring student leaders have been working tirelessly to ensure that we continue to thrive in this new dynamic.
The Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee has played an important role in support of Hillel during the transitional period. “The Federation has worked in close partnership with Hillel over the past two years,” said Executive Director Mark S. Freedman. “We want to ensure that Hillel will continue to have the necessary financial resources to deliver high quality programs and services that meet the needs of the many students who come through the doors of Hillel.”
As we move forward into this exciting future, Hillel has started the semester off with a bang. In addition to fantastic programs and opportunities for students to get involved, Hillel has installed a beautiful “Dor L’Dore” Donor Tree, underwritten by a generous gift from Ben Schulman (EN ’38) and supported by a wide range of people who understand the value of Vanderbilt Hillel. Over 50 leaves bearing the names of alumni, parents, students, and community members have already been purchased and adorn the tree. In addition, over twenty young alumni have added their names to the young alumni acorns.
The Dor L’Dore Tree was unveiled during Reunion Weekend, October 23-25 and over the course of the weekend events many people stopped by Hillel to see the new addition to our lounge area. The tree was officially dedicated at a brunch on Oct. 25 honoring those who had already purchased leaves and acorns.
Barbara Mendel Mayden, board president, spoke and thanked all who had already contributed and encouraged others to support Hillel.
“As we look ahead, the board is focusing attention on ensuring Hillel’s financial stability, explaining to current and future donors the new nature of our funding as well as our immediate and long term financial needs,” she said. Separation from Vanderbilt includes separation from Vanderbilt’s systems and operations, she said, likening Hillel to “… a start-up business that must be funded through the generosity of supporters who understand that every dollar we raise is critical to our mission of fostering Jewish identity on campus.”
We hope you will stop by Hillel to see for yourself how beautiful the tree looks in our lounge, grab a bite to eat at Grins, and consider adding your name. For more information, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. •
Ari Dubin is executive director of Vanderbilt Hillel.