Jewish club at UNL helps those in need

Isaac Brodkey once slept on a stranger’s couch with two hours’ notice. He needed a place to sleep and she had the space. Their only shared connection: they are Jewish.

“You could email any other Jew in the world and they’d help you out without even thinking twice about it,” Brodkey, 21, said.

That sentiment lies at the heart of Hillel at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, an international Jewish organization created specifically for college students.

Giving back

Guided by certain Judaic tenets, Hillel has developed a philanthropic focus the past year.

“One of the big things in Judaism is tzedakah. It’s doing good deeds, giving aid to those who need it,” said Hillel president Talia Halperin, 21.

“It’s just a basic thing in Judaism,” Brodkey said. He serves as the director of Jewish education for the club.

Last semester Hillel partnered with Sigma Alpha Mu to raise money for Feeding America. Together they sold donuts and latkes, fried potato pancakes sometimes eaten with applesauce.

“Everyone loves latkes,” Halperin said. “It’s fried potatoes. Plus Judaism.”

This year Hillel held a flash fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Harvey. They sold challah, a braided bread eaten on special occasions, and donated the money to Harvey relief organizations.

Senior student adviser Aviva Atri, 21, worried college students wouldn’t buy loaves of bread.

“We sold out in minutes,” Halperin said.

Hillel raised $200 from the bread and an extra $200 in donations.

“That proved to us more than anything that we can have an impact,” Atri said. “We are small, but yet, we plan an event less than a week in advance and we make an impact.”

Sticking together

That responsibility to serve others means Jews can rely on each other in times of need, whether or not they share the same religious views. Atri, for example, identifies as Jewish but doesn’t consider herself religious.

“It doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day there are so few of us,” she said. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are about 7,000 Jews in Nebraska.

While Hillel is a Jewish organization, it’s space for both Jewish and non-Jewish students, Atri said. Some Hillel chapters require proof of Jewish parentage and religious participation.

At UNL Hillel, though, Atri stressed that everyone is welcome.

“It doesn’t matter if your parents are hippopotamuses.”

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