Hillel at Binghamton has been selected as the recipient of the Joseph Meyerhoff Award for Jewish Educational Vision, one of Hillel International’s Campus Awards. The award recognizes a Hillel that “successfully develops and implements creative and innovative strategies in Jewish education.”
Every year, Hillel International recognizes the work happening on more than 550 campuses across the world. Additionally, Hillel International recognizes a few Hillels for their accomplishments through the Campus Awards. These awards are given to Hillels that have “gone above and beyond during the year, and have excelled in their campus engagement.”
The winning student-led initiative, Bing Omer, was introduced at the height of the COVID pandemic as a way for the local Hillel community members to count the omer together via WhatsApp. At the end of the digital journey, students were welcomed to a Shavuot Hop – a socially distanced celebration that featured round-robin style learning. The program was organized by two Hillel student leaders, Danielle Kinches ‘22 and Hannah Kaplun ‘23.
In its award application, Hillel noted, “During the 2020-2021 academic year, Hillel at Binghamton made the incredibly difficult decision to remain partially virtual and partially socially distant for all events and programming... Together as a community, we engaged in a conversation about how do we learn Jewishly, the methodologies of engagement and what does it mean to engage deeply in Jewish learning? The conversation led to a Jewish learning, year-long initiative, that would transcend Jewish learning beyond a typical classroom style experience.”
This led to the development of Bing Omer. Hillel’s application further noted: “Between Passover and Shavuot, our students counted the omer using a WhatsApp group called ‘Bing Omer.’ This student-led initiative was profound in its impact. Hundreds of students joined the group, and every day a different student, community member or staff member would deliver a three-five minute d’var on their thoughts and musings about the omer. Forty-nine different people had the opportunity to engage in a learning and the Jewish ritual of counting the omer, and 100s of students were able to passively engage in this meaningful experience by listening to their community count the omer and counting along... The ‘Bing Omer’ was a way of bringing the community together in a really unique way, using WhatsApp as a platform, recording a personal d’var and sending it as a voice message to the group, and allowing any Jewish community member to join and listen, which proved to be a unique and far-reaching Jewish learning experience.”
Hillel at Binghamton was unable to hold its traditional festive Shavuot meal after the counting of the omer concluded and looked for a safe way to celebrate the holiday. This led to the Shavuot Hop, which was led by students from Chabad, Hillel and the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus. Hillel staff noted, “During the ‘Shavuot Hop’ students went from Hillel, to JLIC, to Chabad, and ‘house hopped’ with educators. They learned about how Dr. Seuss’ tales share a uniquely Jewish perspective on environmentalism, life lessons from Pirke Avot and how we can bring their lessons into our lives, how the Torah tells us that disability awareness and advocacy is an innately Jewish mission, and much more. The Shavuot Hop was conducted in small learning groups, socially distanced and outside at our educators’ homes.” The sessions were made to be accessible to those with all levels of Jewish knowledge.
What was considered the most successful part of the program was how it became a community building event. Since the students were allowed to take the lead, they took ownership of the projects, as Hillel’s award application stated in its conclusion: “In the end, students felt extremely proud of their accomplishments, they received positive feedback from the community, and the numbers alone show their success: hundreds of students [took part] in the Bing Omer group and over 150 students [participated in] the Shavuot Hop.”