People and Community University

UM Hillel Celebrates 75 Years of Jewish Culture and Belonging on Campus

Guests and students joined UM Hillel to celebrate past achievements and raise awareness of future endeavors.
Hillel, 75th anniversary, student life

Guests at UM Hillel's 75th anniversary celebration, held at the Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life. 

The influence of Hillel on the University of Miami campus extends far beyond the typical practice and appreciation of Judaism. During its 75th anniversary celebration, held at the Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life this month, guests were greeted with a contagious energy reflective of the organization’s mission and values.

“One of the more important things I discuss with students and University officials is that UM Hillel is here to work as an indispensable partner to the University to build a stronger, more diverse and respectful community,” said Igor Khokhlov, executive director of UM Hillel. “While our main audience tends to be Jewish students, our doors are open to everyone and we are very proud of the partnerships we have created on campus.”

The partnerships and relationships that have been fostered through Hillel’s 75 years on campus were on full display during the anniversary celebration, where guests dressed as their favorite Jewish figure—or food. (One couple came as a bagel and lox. Also in attendance were student representatives and members who eagerly shared stories and updates about their experiences and plans to continue growing and sharing their faith.

“Rabbi Lyle and Hillel take a new approach to studying and practicing Judaism,” said student Mallory Madfes, a senior in the College of Engineering. “I have been encouraged to grow my faith and appreciation for my religion in new ways through programing and events created for many different student interests.”

That’s exactly what attracted Rabbi Lyle Rothman to UM Hillel last year. “While I was in seminary, I served as the rabbinic intern at Columbia/Barnard Hillel,” he said. “During that time, I realized that I wanted to work on campus because Hillel is truly a dynamic organization. Ultimately, I decided to come to UM Hillel because of the opportunity to shape Jewish life on campus with such a diverse population; there is nothing more exciting than Hillel’s pluralistic approach to Judaism.”

During the 75th anniversary celebration, it was apparent that the approach embraced by Hillel’s team is impacting both the student and local communities.

Junior Olivia Sacks, Hillel’s campus engagement intern, spent the evening telling peers and guests about the broad range of programming on and off campus. Everything from traditional celebrations of Shabbat and the High Holidays to community service to yoga with discussions support Rothman’s pluralistic approach to practicing Judaism and make students of various backgrounds and religious beliefs feel welcome.

“Hillel is truly a home away from home for many students, including myself,” said Sacks. “It is a place on campus where students of various denominations and religious affiliations can discover a sense of belonging.”

And that, Khokhlov said, is by design. “While remaining true to the essence of the organizational mission of being a central address for Jewish life on campus, Hillel has succeeded in creating the atmosphere where students are welcome — regardless of their gender, background, political, religious, or sexual preferences,” he said. “Students know that Hillel is a safe space, a space that challenges them, offers opportunities to grow as leaders, professionals and Jews.”

UM Hillel’s team of seven professionals, who hail from around the world, share Rothman’s vision for enhancing not only Jewish life, but all lives, at the U.

“I know my rabbinate on campus will be grounded in caring for and nurturing souls,” Rothman said. “More than being a caregiver, I want to guide people’s souls to realize their potential. I look forward to sharing my love of prayer and learning with the students, staff, and faculty of the University of Miami.”

While the 75th anniversary of Hillel garnered the attention of students and guests, it is Hillel’s cultural embrace and acceptance that continues to make an everlasting impact on the UM community.