Saturday, December 18, 2010

UF in Israel - Update!

Shalom! I'm Brandon Labiner. I'm a 22 year-old Senior studying Economics. I have been in the State of Israel for 5 days, and I have loved every minute of it. Our first visit was to the holy city of Zefat. Here we ate shwarma, visited a synagogue, and discussed Kabalah with a local rabbi. It truly “awesomeeeee.”
The next day we walked along the Tel Dan nature trail. It was beautiful. We then visited the Golan Heights. It was here that we learned about the conflict Israel is having with Syria. That was our coldest day so far. In the distance I was able to see Mt. Hermon covered in snow! Then we played with leftover snow from a few days earlier. I was shocked by the weather here. Israel is in the desert, but it still snows in the north of the country in the winter! That's just sababa!!

Additionally, we have visited an olive oil mill and discussed the Israel/Arab conflict at an ecological plant. We took a view of the “Green Line” overlooking an Arab village. This all lead up to the highlight of my trip thus far, Tel Aviv! We spent two days in this incredible metropolitan city by the Mediterranean Sea. I ate falafel with humus and went to the Shuk Carmel where I bought gifts for me and my family. We also went to an Israeli nightclub and visited Independence Hall, where David Ben-Gourion signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence for our beautiful Jewish homeland. Then we met up with the Israeli soldiers joining us on the trip. It was been so culturally eye-opening spending time with the Israeli people that fight for their homeland.

I'm less than a week in on Taglit-Birthright, and I am already in love with this land. The beautiful country, the wonderful citizens, and the places we have been have all been absolutely incredible. I have loved every minute of this experience and can't wait for the next four days ahead. Yala Balagan!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Update 2: UF Hillel in Israel - Birthright

I'm Samantha Liebhaber, a 19-year-old public relations sophomore. My first two days in Israel have been pretty interesting. My flight over here was pretty awful: 14 hours, one seat and two horrible meals. Needless to say, my group was pretty unhappy. But once we ate, showered and slept at our Kibbutz, a cross between a hotel and farm, we felt a lot better. The food at the Kibbutz was amazing and home-grown. It was fresh, colorful and crazy good. We had goat cheese pastries, coucous and a lot of great food. Then we woke up nice and early to drive to Tzvat, one of the holiest cities in Israel. We walked around the rocky and ancient city while learning Jewish history, eating awesome falafel and watching the little Israeli children run around and chase stray cats.
I had thought I'd be blown away by the Israeli landscape, but I was still unprepared. We went to a rooftop in Tzvat and watched the sunset over the mountains in the North. It was indescribable.
We left Tzvat to go to another Kibbutz for the night. We played some surprisingly funny ice-breaker games in the Kibbutz lobby and ate some more awesome food. Now were on our way to a local pub. Should be sababa, laila tov.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hillel in ISRAEL

Wow - what a long flight - but we are here safe and sound in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel).  We just arrived in Kibbutz Tzuba, a kibbutz about 20 minutes from Jerusalem.  Getting ready for some food, then our first orientation with the whole group.  Hope to update soon!

Monday, November 8, 2010

So you wanna make the world a better place, right???

Hillel has something brand new and very exciting coming up THIS Sunday.  Hillel and JSU are hosting the 1st annual UF Mitzvah Day.  This will be a day of charitable acts and good deeds for everyone.  This event is open to anyone that wants to participate and the great part about it is you will be spending the day with some awesome students and helping making the world a better place.

Here's how it works:
  • This Sunday, November 14th, be at Hillel at 10 a.m. for a kick-off breakfast
  • Get to know all the wonderful people you will be working with that day
  • After breakfast, everyone will split up into groups
    • There will on-site and off-site groups
      •  Activities will include
        • Working with children
        • Working with animals
        • Helping the environment
        • International relief efforts
        • And more!!
This is something not to miss and remember, it is a non-denominational event so everyone is invited!!

Make sure to register before Sunday!!
For more information on UF Mitzvah Day 2010 or to register online, please visit


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Torah on Tap

Check out this new flier:

Pretty sweet, right?

This is one of our new initiatives to make Judaism relevant and "cool".  We get together over some pizza and beer and schmooze.  This week we are talking about Abraham.  Abraham had some serious chutzpah!  And tonight we'll discuss our own Jewish identities and how we express them.

We encourage you to join us for Torah on Tap, every Wednesday at Anthony's pizza (1209 W University) on the back porch of Leonardo's (1245 W. University Ave).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I know what you're thinking. "what is an alternative learner's service?"

Because you follow our Twitter stream and Facebook page I am sure you are fully aware that we have launched a new Alternative-Learner's service at UF Hillel. 

Program Director Jeff has been working on a new kind of pluralistic service that invites students to choose their own prayer books and choose their own method of prayer. Here's basically what the room looked like.

There were a few more chairs and couches but this is basically what it looked like.  When students entered they were directed to select a prayer book and seat of their choice.  The goal was for students to have a shared Jewish experience strictly on their own terms.  For students that wanted something traditional they could sit in rows of seats.  For students that wanted to experience Shabbat in a comfortable way that subconsciously made them feel slightly removed as if they were watching this all on TV, we had couches and coffee tables set-up.    And for student who wanted to experience what an isoalted meditative experience was like we brough in the Pop-Up Sukkah.

Wait you don't know what the Pop-Up Sukkah is?  Watch this video.

So this was a shabbat experience.  We did not recite every prayer and sing every song.  For students that were looking for that kind of service we have reform and conservative minyans.  This service was about learning about prayer, writing our own prayers, and discussing the weekly Torah portion as a group.  We sang and danced out on the street and through the building.  After the service several students approached me and expressed gratitude for having a service like this.  They shared comments such as:  that they really felt connected for the first time in a long time, the dancing made a huge difference in celebrating the welcoming of Shabbat, and they learned a whole new way to view the Torah. 

Last week we discussed the many creation stories from around the world.  We then compared those stories to our own story in Genesis.  Then we looked at modern geology and earth science.  I don't want to ruin the surprise for you but the Torah is in sync with the process of creation from a geologic perspective.  The time tables don't work out so conveniently, That's why we bring in Gerald Schroeder, the 2 time PhD from MIT in Nuclear Physics and Earth Sciences.  Here is what he says. 

This week we examined the various flood stories from around the world, compared Noah to Abraham and Joseph, and talked a little bit about the month of Cheshvan that we just entered. 

We plan on having services like these at least twice a month for now.  Depending on interest this may increase.  To contact Jeff about questions or to get involved with this service or any of our services email him

Monday, September 6, 2010

"I heard the Shofar and thought you were calling me"

In case you missed the latest YouTube sensation, watch this 1 minute and 45 second video.

So maybe it isn't a sensation but that wasn't the goal.  We went to campus with the goal of handing out fliers to people that have the High Holiday schedule printed, and kind of get the word out about Hillel.  That was the mindset.  I figured, hey let's bring the shofar, blow it a few times, get people's attention, make a little noise, etc...
That was the plan in theory.
When I showed up I was more than scared.  I wasn't terrified, but I was definitely intimidated and worried.  What are people going to say when they hear and see this?  Am I going to be asked to leave?  What about the guy playing guitar or the multi-cultural fraternities performing step routines?  What are they going to think about someone coming into the plaza with a huge ram's horn making a ton of racket?  Then on top of that start yelling like a lunatic screaming silly phrases like:

"If you hear the shofar, Rosh Hashanah ain't far!"
"Let's get High, the High Holidays are a week away!"
"Come to Hillel! Bring your Jewish friends, your Jewish parents, and your Jewish pets!"
"The High Holidays are one week away!  This is the last week of the Jewish year!"

I was saying these things and in the back of my mind thinking, "I sound like an apocalyptic preacher who has lost his mind."

The game changer for me, which all of the sudden made it seem OK to be doing this, was going into Reitz Union.  I don't know if the video does it justice.  If you walk into to the Reitz Union food court at lunch time, you cannot find a table.  They place has hundreds of people sitting, eating, and talking there.
I found an open chair and stood on it and raised the Shofar over my head, and a girl said to me, "Are you gonna blow that?"

That was all the encouragement I needed.

Once I had support outside of my team that consisted of the Rabbi, my co-director, and Israeli fellow, the whole thing became much easier.  By the whole thing I mean the screaming at people and being comfortable with the comments and stares.

When I finished the first Shofar blast the place was silent.  I didn't expect that.  When I finished my shtick I got applause.  I really didn't expect that.
The whole time we were doing this I had the impression that students would see me like one of the many famous Turlington preachers that heckle students, spewing hateful remarks, drawing crowds, and making scenes.  But that was the exact opposite of the student reaction.  I was encouraged by the students.  People wanted to hear the Shofar.  I'll write that again.  If you read this and only remember one thing or take one thing away from what we did on campus take this with you.

People want to hear the shofar.

On the Plaza of the Americas, Krishna House draws a huge crowd for lunch.  Many students sit under the trees to eat Krishna lunch.  I was really hesitant to blow the Shofar.  I mean, nobody messes with the Krishnas.  They have been here way longer than I have and will continue to be after I leave.  The team and I were discussing if we should really disturb this very nice and friendly group with Shofar blowing, and yelling, and fliers, and the whole shtyck.  Then a young hipster-dude came up to me and said, "Is that a Shofar?  Can I hear it?"
My response was, "Yes and no, I don't think it's right to disturb the Krishnas."
My new Hipster-dude friend said, "You're on the Plaza of the Americas.  This is a free space for speech and expression."
That was all I needed to hear.

I took a few steps back, co-director Jessica grabbed the flip cam, and then several other students grabbed cameras and phones with cameras to record this.  And I thought, "I hope I don't blow this."  -just kidding, that's just a little pun.

I blew the shofar, said my shtyck and the people really liked it.  But I wouldn't have done it without the support from someone who wanted to hear it.

People like shofars, they want to hear the shofar!

When was the last time someone used a Shofar for a very real and practical purpose?  How is a shofar supposed to work in the physical world?  To call the Jewish people.  In the spiritual world, to renew the soul -  but that's not my blog post.  If I had a giant iPhone 4 and had the reception (AT&T in Gainesville, ya right) but seriously.  If I had a magic phone to call every Jew on campus to tell them the High Holidays are 1 week away, and Hillel has all the meals and services you could need, I cannot guarantee they would hear me.  If I left a voice mail on every Jewish cell phone, I don't think they would be checked.  But if you blow a Shofar on campus, every single Jew will hear it, see it, recognize it, and internalize it in a very personal and very real way.

The unseen side effects of our stunt/experiment/what-have-you have been rippling through campus, the internet, and other people since Wednesday.
I had a girl come up to me yesterday while I was tabling at a campus involvement fair.  She said, "I heard the Shofar and thought you were calling me.  I saw you and remembered back in Hebrew School my teacher telling me that the ancient Hebrews would use Shofars to call to one another.  I didn't even know about services here until I came over."

Do you get it?  This girl is a student here, a Jewish student here, and she didn't know that Hillel is here to provide meals and services.  Hillel has a great reputation...with a few people. For the vast majority of our over 8,000 Jewish students Hillel has no reputation.  Again, that's another shmooze but the point is, the Shofar calls and people hear.

It is impossible to gauge how many people heard the Shofar.  I stood in the middle of Turlington Plaza blowing as loud as I could.  The Youtube video helps too.  Now many folks (about 500 from when I last checked) have seen the video and they are circulating it to relatives, friends, facebook, synagogues, etc... I have people calling me that I haven't spoken to in years just to ask, "What was that like?"  People like hearing the Shofar, and this silly and embarrassing stunt has worked far better than we could ever have imagined.

Hopefully, when you hear the Shofar this week, you can feel it calling to you and calling to your soul.

This post was written by Jeff Kaplan, the same guy you saw yelling in the video.  Jeff will be blowing the Shofar again at the Reform Rosh Hashanah service at Hillel.  If you want to contact him his email is  For more information on the High Holidays at UF, go to

Sunday, September 5, 2010

JSU events and happenings

Jewish Student Union can be spotted all around Gainesville on and off campus. We are a social group of Jewish college students looking to mingle and have a fun time. This week you can find us at Hillel celebrating the Jewish New Year with food, refreshments and music on Tuesday at 9 p.m. Come ring in the New Year with us after a relaxing long weekend.

Next week, JSU will host the annual Fall Welcome Week. Start off your week on Sunday night September 12th at 5 p.m. at Hillel for a sushi dinner. Meet the executive board and new faces of JSU. On Monday look for us at the Reitz Colonnade in between classes from 11-2 as we will be hosting our involvement fair. You can learn how to get involved with JSU and around campus. Wander through the Plaza of the Americas on Tuesday to join us for tie-dying and pizza. Make something for yourself or surprise your roommate! To end the week off right, join us off-campus at Farah’s on the Avenue located on 1120 West University Avenue for great free food!

Jewish Student Union is excited to be back for fall 2010. We are so excited to see familiar faces and friends, but can’t wait to meet new people too!

Please come out and join us for all the free events we have to offer. 

This post was written by JSU.  To contact JSU for more information contact

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pizza Party!

Hillel threw a Pizza Party at a local campus hot spot. Tons of students turned out in attendance, made great connections with other students, and will be coming out to more of our events. We look forward to seeing them again and meeting new students throughout the semester.

Hillel strikes out! a good way

We were bowling not playing baseball!

For our second event of the week, we went bowling.  We had an amazing turn-out with freshmen, grad students, and everyone in between being represented.  We hope to see you at the next event!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

High Holidays Approach… (and they’re coming fast!)

The University of Florida Hillel is a place where many Jewish students can call home, especially during the High Holidays. This year more students than ever will depend on UF Hillel for services and meals… and, UF Hillel depends on the generosity of supporters to make this possible.
Your generosity to UF Hillel’s Gators and Honey fund will help ensure that no student is alone during the Holy Days. It will help provide a place to observe and feel part of a Jewish family.
Please help us welcome students who wish to celebrate the Jewish New Year by considering a gift to the University of Florida Hillel. Your generosity will support High Holiday services, meals for students and will ensure that the traditions on the Jewish people continue to thrive!

Contribute now at

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grafi-Tee's were a success!

Today we tried our first ever spray painting custom shirt event.  The student's loved the idea.  It rained during all 4 hours we were there, but it didn't stop us!  We moved under the awning in front of Library West and...well check out this video from our new Youtube channel to see the rest.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Welcome Week Schedule!

We have huge plans for this week!

Monday (8/23) tabling in Turlington

Tuesday (8/24) Grafi-tees
Students can custom designing t-shirts on the Plaza of the Americas, in front of Library West from 11am to 1:30 pm.  All materials will be supplied, just bring your creativity.

Wednesday (8/25) Bowling at Reitz
You can bowl for free from 7pm to 9 pm.  Just bring your socks.

Thursday (8/26) I Love NY Pizza Party
Pizza party upstairs on 17th and University from 7pm to 9 pm.  This time all you need to bring is an appetite.

Friday (8/27) First Shabbat of the semester
We have Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox minyans at the Hillel House (2020 W University Ave).  Services are at 6:30 pm.  Dinner is immediately after.

Hope to see you all there and on campus!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reflections Part Deux

"Lean on me, when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend. I'll help you carry on. For it won't be long, till I'm gonna need, somebody to lean on"

I spent seven wonderful summers at Camp Coleman in Cleveland, Georgia. Every time I hear this song, I automatically think about sitting around a camp fire, swaying with my cabin mates and friends. But after spending a week in St. Louis at the Hillel Institute, the song has a much more profound meaning. Sure, it will always remind me of camp and the place where my Jewish identity began to form but I am now able to integrate it into my life 15 years later.

Before the Institute began, I participated in what was called NPI (New Professional Training). Here, nearly 50 new Hillel Professionals met and became well versed on the ins and outs of programming and engagement.  In my opinion, the most valuable thing that one could learn from this week of intensive (and unbearably hot) training was the importance and necessity of your network. 

Not only did NPI provide me with dozens of people I can call, e-mail or bounce ideas off of, but it also gave me individuals who understand my way of life. My job does not run 9-5 nor does it require me to wear a suit and heels. I work when students need me to work. Sometimes its till 11 p.m., other times its on a Sunday. I run around campus in shorts and Converse passing out fliers of upcoming Hillel events.  And on a bad day, I get confused for a Freshman. The people I met at NPI are the ones who will understand this job at its best, its most stressful and who unquestionably agree that this is the greatest job on earth. 

But it isn't just about the New Professionals. Hillel Institute allowed us to network and meet with other schools who share similar predicaments and problems. One of the lessons they hoped we walked away with was the that of finding a mentor. It did not need to be someone who worked for the same school as you, but rather a person you found could guide you through your professional journey of Hillel. I was fortunate enough to connect with many people who were able to offer insight and advice about some of the many facets of this job. After a week of feeling overwhelmed by an incredible amount of information, it was reassuring to know that there were people only a phone call away who could walk me through any situation and would never find any question too stupid or unimportant.

And so these song lyrics finally come full circle. What once started as a tribute to my many summers spent at Camp Coleman now defines the family-like foundation of working for Hillel. There is always somebody to call. There is always somebody to e-mail. There are always databases of ideas to browse through. In a time where your whole life is changing (graduation--moving to a new city---first job...hello---it's scary!) finding a constant is an incredible relief and an empowering thing to own. 

Until next time,


This post was written by our new program director Jessica Davis.  She can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @Jcdgators.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Reflections on the Hillel Institute

We are back from the Hillel Institute in St. Louis and so energized and excited  to start the Fall semester.  I have been reflecting on the week lately and have come to several conclusions. Let me just assure you that we, and more generally Hillel,  are moving in the right direction.

A big theme this year was breadth and depth.  This focus translates to how programs can touch a wide audience and also be meaningful.  These concepts, on the surface, are counter-intuitive.  It would seem that a program that has a wide audience must be watered-down and mainstreamed (2 aquatic metaphors) which could negate any attempt at reaching depth.  Depth is supposed measure the meaningfulness of an experience.  The correlation here is that the more meaningful something is the deeper it will resonate within someone. This is the old debate of quality versus quantity.  Is our mission to merely touch as many lives as we can or really focus and really work to develop several students (out of the +8000 Jewish students in Gainesville) into heliga menschkite?  The mission is to do both, to do all.  To enrich the lives of as many students as we can while providing meaningful Jewish experiences to all that will participate.

I contemplated this for some time.   I really struggled with the idea of depth.  Maybe not the idea but the definition, the imagery of what depth is.  To me, the word most closely resembling a meaningful Jewish experience, with follow-up is "growth".  Growth seems to be what we are after.  But I could be wrong.  I thought more about these conflicting terms and tried to reconcile them.  So, what grows deep?


When roots grow, they grow slowly.  Over time, little by little.  They grow deep, they grow wide.  They are the support and sustainability that is the success of a tree.  I think that is where breadth and depth play into what programing should look like.  Programs should run the gambit of accessibility however they should be rife with opportunities for depth.  Once our students develop wide and meaningful experiences, their Jewish identity will flourish.  Our experiences and memories become our roots, the way we live and act in the world is our tree.

And what happens when trees fall?  What happens when programs look great on paper but in real life don't come together at all? I can honestly say I no longer have fear of F.L.O.P.S.S. (Feeling Like Our Programs Suck Syndrome).  Another great thing about the conference was the amount of networking we were encouraged to do.  It would seem that most people go to conferences for the "hallway conversations".  In a brilliant move by the conference staff, they structured groups to have "hallway conversation" time in classrooms around the campus.  We were able to learn so much from our colleagues, friends, and like-minded schools.  We have the resources now to connect with the people who serve as friends and informal mentors to us.  When we want to try out a program like "Grad Student Alternative Spring Break" I can contact the director from that school to learn from them.  With ease we can find out what were the struggles to recruit students, how did that trip differ from an undergraduate trip, will they do it again, and how will it be different?  This makes our programming better, our Hillel better, and other Hillels better too.

My absolute hands down favorite part of the conference that I will carry with me throughout is the feeling of service and gratitude amongst all the participants.  I know it sounds cheesy but whatever.  Truthfully, it is an amazing feeling to work for an organization that is full of talented and passionate people focused on providing whatever we can, at the highest level of quality that we can, for the betterment of the future.  For our future, for your future, for everyone's future. 

Well our students are starting to trickle back into town.  We wish them all the success in the upcoming semester!  Look out for us next week, we will be all over campus tabling and hosting events.  Hope to see you there,


This post was written by our new program director Jeff Kaplan.  He can be reached at or follow him on Twitter @Jeffdude

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Staff! Big plans for Fall!

So much has been going on at Hillel this summer!!

We have a mostly new staff that has been working diligently to prepare for an excellent fall semester.  Things to expect are a big Welcome Week push, excellent High Holy days services, Freshmen student specific programs, Graduate/Professional student events, regular Shabbat services, and many social events for everyone.  Once these are finalized we will be posting information here, on our website at, and of course you can follow us on twitter @UFhillel.

Feel free to read the new staff bios here:

See our calendar of events here:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Welcome to the new and official UF Hillel Blog


This is the new and official blog for University of Florida’s Hillel.  Here we will be posting information, news updates, and sharing what’s going on here.  The University of Florida has the largest Jewish student population of any school in the United States of America so be sure to check back frequently to see what we have planned for the 2010-2011 school year.

Also follow us on Twitter @UFHillel and on Facebook where we have a group and fan page.