HIGA 2023: Where Resilience Meets Purpose - An AJU Perspective


This year’s 2023 annual Hillel International General Assembly (HIGA), which met from December 4-7 in Dallas, wasn't just a gathering; it was a poignant testament to the resiliency and unity of the global Jewish community. For me, it held personal significance, as a former Hillel professional in Maryland and Texas, resonating deeply with the challenges faced by students and Hillel pros fighting for their right to celebrate their Jewish identity on campuses without fear of discrimination. 

Throughout the brightly lit halls of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas, seasoned CEOs celebrating 30 years with Hillel and recent college graduates beginning their careers as Springboard fellows sought support from one another in the various cafés and sitting areas, and even while petting puppies in the puppy lounge. Intense conversations with Adam Lehman, the CEO of Hillel International, and Matthew Bronfman, the chairman of the board of governors of Hillel International, echoed in the hotel bar after HIGA’s opening plenary. Israel fellows shared their perspectives on what to do in a post–October 7 world, as Jewish institutions battle with how best to support their students and keep the Israel dialogue alive. The big question of the year; how do we ensure Hillel continues to be a safe haven for Jewish students on college campuses across the world? During our Ziegler and BCI (Brandeis Camp Institute) happy hours, alumni sought out our faculty and staff for comfort, learning, and solidarity. They also brought along potential rabbinical students and BCI participants, connecting them with us and raving about their experiences and how AJU has been a guide throughout the many milestones on their Jewish journeys: camp memories as children at Camp Alonim, immersing in our mikvah before a wedding, a spiritual reckoning at a BCI song circle and more.  

Amidst this context, AJU’s presence at HIGA stood as an emblem of solidarity. Beyond symbolizing institutional support, it reaffirmed our commitment to fostering inclusive environments. Over 400 Jewish professionals sought AJU out during the conference and the partner expo to learn more about our diverse educational opportunities like the Brandeis Camp Institute, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, and our new podcast, The Syllabus with Mark Oppenheimer. We didn't just display programs; we extended an invitation for collaboration and collective action to support Jewish individuals facing adversity. 

The assembly became a nexus of shared empathy and determination. It amplified the collective resolve to combat discrimination and foster inclusivity. The connections between Hillel professionals, Rabbi Samuel Rosenbaum, Liana Wertman, Rabbi Tarlan Rabizadeh, and me transcended the conference, signifying a commitment to cultivating an environment where every individual could proudly embrace their Jewish identity without apprehension, and dive deeper into what doing Jewish means to them. It symbolized a response to the attacks—an unwavering declaration that, in the face of adversity, the Jewish community stands united, stronger, and more connected than ever. Am Yisrael Chai. 


Alyssa Silva is the Programming Manager for the Office of Open Learning at American Jewish University. Open Learning offers a wide array of engaging subjects that will expand your knowledge and deepen your understanding of Jewish history and culture.


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