Rabbi Jake brings story of Hillel revival at UVA to Hampton Roads

by | Apr 5, 2013 | Uncategorized

Rabbi Jake Rubin speaks in Ghent.

Rabbi Jake Rubin speaks in Ghent.

I don’t know what made me more proud.

Hearing how strong Hillel has become at my alma mater, the University of Virginia, or the fact that my nephew was the one delivering the good news.

Rabbi Jake Rubin, son of my brother, came to Norfolk at the invitation of Hillel state board members Steve Leon and Wendy Brodsky, to apprise friends and prospective first years on how the Jewish student youth organization is thriving under his leadership as director.

He doesn’t take all the credit. “It’s the kids who are starting committees to help the poor, promote Jewish education and Israel, celebrate holidays and plan events,” says the graduate of both Mr. Jefferson’s University and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical seminary in Philadelphia. “We provide space and support, but it’s the students who supply the energy and manpower.”

Hillel screens all Wahoos who want to go on Birthright missions (UVa routinely sends 50 or more to Israel each year). It’s one of the ways Jake says he is able to get in front of Jewish students, of which there are now some 2,000 on the Charlottesville campus. “We man booths during orientations, have bagels on the Lawn, Shabbat dinners every Friday night, Pesach seders, high holiday services and many more activities to make students aware that we are here and help them maintain a connection to their Judaism,” says Rubin, a Richmond native. “Many years ago I think Hillel was perceived as the campus synagogue, but today that’s not the case. Our religious culture is Reform/Conservative but more important, we are a place to come and be with other Jews, to learn and grow.”

Wendy Brodsky was thrilled with the turnout of nearly 50 community members at an early evening event in Ghent. “The word’s getting out about how Hillel is thriving at UVa, and so much credit goes to Jake and his small staff,” says Brodsky, whose daughter graduated from Virginia in 2012 and whose son is a third year at the university.

“Parents who used to think you had to send your children further north to find a Jewish life are taking a second look at UVa,” says Steve Leon, whose son Mason graduates this spring from the school. “They are hearing from other young people about the positive experience there.”

Hillel has expanded its building on University Circle and is now raising funds to increase the annual budget and staff to keep up with demand.

“Kids feel so good when they come into the Brody Jewish Center,” says Rabbi Rubin, who thanked the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and Tidewater Jewish Foundation for their ongoing support. “We encourage them to get in touch with us before they arrive or right after they get to the grounds. Jewish life is getting better all the time here, and we want everyone to be part of it.”

For more information on Hillel at UVa, visit www.brodyjewishcenter.org.

by Joel Rubin