CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia—It’s a clear autumn morning in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Rabbi Jake Rubin has an extra spring in his step. He’s on his way to Thomas Jefferson’s academic village on the campus of the University of Virginia, and is preparing himself to set up shop feeding 30 dozen bagels to sleepy-eyed Jewish students.
“The best part about this morning,” Rubin says, “is not having to wear the stupid shirt.”
He’s talking about a t-shirt from UVa’s rival school—Virginia Tech. A shirt that, for the past three years, he’s reluctantly put on and paraded around Grounds in the spirit of engaging young alumni of the University of Virginia’s Brody Jewish Center to give back.
Born out of the popular in-state rivalry between Tech and UVa, Hillel executive directors Sue Kurtz and Rabbi Jake Rubin created the Commonwealth Kiddush Cup—a friendly competition between alumni under 40 from each school to see who could raise more money for their campus Hillel—organizations that serve as centers for Jewish life on college campuses.
But it isn’t just the familiar rivalry schtick that makes the annual campaign successful—it’s the droves of young alumni that come out to support a cause they care about.
“They are choosing to take money from their other life events, and give it to a place they have memories with,” Kurtz says. “When a young alum chooses to give, it’s because they recognize how Hillel impacted them, and they care about the world and those that follow them.”
And though that is proven to be the case, it’s helped by a little bit of fundraising ingenuity to inspire and engage millennials and young alumni. The Cup is run through a Crowdrise platform, where donors can enter their information digitally, and immediately see their contribution affect their school’s position in real time. For a bonus incentive, this year’s challenge offered young alumni the opportunity to have their parents match their gifts, and the additional social element of donating by graduation year.
“I think it’s part of why we saw such record results,” Rubin says. And both schools did. In the fourth year of the Cup, the schools raised a combined total of $52,682—more than doubling contributions from the previous year.
“We’re establishing a tradition of giving, and ultimately that will be the thing that drives the organization in the future,” Rubin says. “Students that are right out of school will give $18 or $36 just to stay connected, but each year we’re seeing that amount go up.”
“It’s how millennials think. They give to the things that affect them. And it’s incredible to know that people care [about Hillel]—from former staff to students to parents, people are really connected. It’s an amazing thing,” says Rubin.
“It means that young alumni are remembering their experiences and living their lives with the values that were reinforced not from academic life in college, but from Hillel. And the fact that they want the same for students on campus now, it’s so emotional for me. It makes me proud,” says Kurtz.
And the Cup really is making a difference for both Hillels. From just the money raised during the Kiddush Cup, UVa is able to fund weekly Friday night Shabbat dinners for the entire academic year and Tech supported its Shabbat meals, and its Israeli and engagement programming.
Rochelle Friedman, a recent alumna of Virginia Tech, worked on the front lines of Tech’s young alumni team to try and encourage other recent graduates to give back. “Hillel was my family and home away from home,” she says. “I donate to ensure generations after me feel the same way.”
But she didn’t just donate. Friedman and others like her worked to engage their network in ways that spoke directly to millennials.
“The key was having our alumni give, post that they gave [to social media], and tag their friends,” Rubin says.
“ Alumni also made calls on behalf of the Cup to their friends and other recent grads to help make the record year possible.
“I think it shows that this generation gives, and it gives generously” Rubin says.
This year Tech raised $24,777 to UVa’s $28,085, and UVa, for the first time, can officially claim victory of the much-desired Kiddush cup.
“It is so nice to not have to have to wear the shirt,” Rubin says. “I can’t even tell you.
“Because I have to put it on, I have to walk Grounds, I have to sit there while all the students mock me.” he said. “Once, I even saw one of the Associate Deans of Students and he came up to me and was just like ‘What are you doing?’” And while Rubin can revel in the fact that he finally has a victory under his belt, it’s really both schools that won, according to Hillel at Virginia Tech’s board chairman, Bruce Kaplan.
“The Jewish students at both schools are the ultimate winners here. Both schools broke prior year records, raising funds for vital student activities and programs,” he said.
Tell that to Sue Kurtz. “I haven’t gotten the UVa clothes yet,” she said. “But I am not looking forward it.”