Federation CEO Cathy Gardner takes in the local fare at "A Taste of Israel"

Hillel at Miami University of Ohio Makes Cultural Impact

41.6 miles south west of Dayton, 59 minutes away, Judaism is thriving at Miami University of Ohio. With an undergraduate student body of over 15,000, and with roughly 40% of students coming from outside the state of Ohio, and 1,000 of them being Jewish, the University is a multi-cultural melting pot. A key ingredient to the mix has been Hillel at Miami University, where they steadily add doses of Jewish culture to campus and the surrounding city of Oxford, Ohio year round.

Marcy Miller, executive director of Hillel at Miami University isn't shy about their outreach. "With about 1,000 Jewish students, that makes up for six or seven percent of the total student body. We're reaching about 500 of those students a year, and out of that 500 we see over 300 for observation of the High Holidays and Passover, and then over 200 of them on a constant basis. We have terrific student leadership here, the Hillel: Association of Jewish Students is really one of the most active groups on campus. Miami's business school is also ranked very highly, and is part of a transfer program that pulls in a lot of students from Asia. The Jewish students bring their friends, and we're able to share across cultures, so we're reaching a pretty broad audience."

This spring, their Yom Haatzmaut celebration "A Taste of Israel" attracted over 300 people and was held at Oxford's Uptown Park and covered an array of educational and celebratory themes regarding Israel and Jewish culture. From shawarma to falafel, a "bedouin" tent with coffee, camels, and life-size photo-ops of iconic Israeli imagery like the Western Wall, attendees were transported to the heart of Jewish culture. Each table was staffed by Hillel students passing out information and answering questions for those new to the culture.

And with no synagogue in the town of Oxford, Hillel at Miami University is really THE place to go for Jewish culture. "We're always busy during all the Jewish holidays, it's non-stop. We also host a broad social dinner once a month, keep up with philanthropic and social justice events like our toy drive, Challah for Hunger, and a program called Ask Big Questions."

Ask Big Questions is a program initiative in coordination with the national Hillels, where students are encouraged to change the world through better conversation. "It started at North Western University by accident, and it's really a remarkable program. It brings students together from all over campus to address big questions. From interfaith to student organizations to the entire campus, it's really a way for people with different backgrounds to learn from each other."

Going hand in hand with the strong student leadership and community, is Hillel at Miami University's strong relationship with the University leadership as well. "The board has always been very receptive and supportive of our role here in the community. We coordinate with them on all kinds of issues, from helping residence life directors understand Jewish life, to ensuring campus safety. We really have a wonderful relationship."

The Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton's Annual Campaign provides funds to Hillel of Miami of Ohio, helping them to grow stronger each year. "Without the support of the Dayton Federation, we'd be shutting our doors. The support we get funds such a wide range of our programs. This year we had over 180 programs total. There's just so much going on, and so much that we do. These students truly consider our building as a home away from home."

When it comes to the practice of Tikkun Olam, Marcy Miller framed their impact perfectly. "We're not just building a Hillel. We're building community. Not just a Jewish community, but an overall community that involves not just the campus but the city as well."

The kind of outreach, community, and leadership building that Marcy Miller and Hillel are able to cultivate will resonate for years to come within the hearts and minds of every student they make an impression on. Instilling and nurturing the Jewish cultural values in our youth helps us build towards a brighter and stronger future. Your campaign donations make a direct impact on helping the Hillel at Miami University make a difference in our corner of Ohio, that spreads ten fold to the surrounding communities and countries these young adults take root in. Pledge to the Annual Campaign today. Contact Alisa Thomas at athomas@jfgd.net or 610-1796 today.

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