New Hillel director: Students are committed to building

Elana Levitz, pictured here outside the UofL InterFaith Center, is the new director of Hillel. (Community photo by Lee Chottiner)

Inside the bunker-style University of Louisville InterFaith Center, the Hillel of Louisville is missing a desk. There is one, but it arrived without assembly instructions.
Down the steps in the chapel, Jewish students must take down the crucifix on the wall and cover up another on the lectern before they can worship there. But they have no Torah, and no prayer books.
Something else they don’t have: members. At least, not a lot of them.
“Right now, our numbers are low,” said Elana Levitz, the newly hired Hillel director. “But our people will come to all our events, so they’re tried and true.”
Which is a good thing, said Levitz who started her new job in February, because her plan for revitalizing Hillel in the Derby City calls for giving students what they want, and what they need.
She plans to start by hiring two student advisors – a graduate and undergraduate – to identify and recruit more students and flesh out a plan for growth.
The students who already are active meet every Wednesday at the InterFaith Center – a facility Hillel shares with Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Lutheran students – to talk over issues they face and plan ahead. (They have done quite a bit of programming since Levitz arrived, but more on that later.)
“I want this to be student driven,” she said.
And she wants students from all the area schools, not just UofL.
There are active Hillel programs at UofL and nearby Bellarmine University, each with its own faculty advisor. Levitz wants to expand Hillel’s reach to include Spalding, Jefferson Community & Technical College and Indiana University Southeast. She already identified a few Jewish students at these campuses, and she believes there are more.
“We hope to get them all on the UofL campus for programming,” Levitz said.
That programming is already underway. Jessica Heinz, president of the UofL Hillel chapter, recently led a Shabbat service at the InterFaith Center, using a program she developed, followed by a dinner.
Lilly Pinhas is the president of the Bellarmine Hillel. she works with Melanie-Prejean Sullivan, director of the campus ministry.
Hillel also partnered with the Jewish Film Festival and students went to see post-Holocaust black and white film, 1945.
They also baked Hamentaschen for Purim, and both the UofL and Bellarmine programs are planning their own Passover seders – March 21 for Bellarmine, March 27 for UofL.
Their activities can be found at the Hillel of Louisville Facebook page, which has 121 followers.
Levitz said the students she has is an eclectic group. They include Jews, non-Jews interested in conversion, and students with a single Jewish parent who are just now discovering their faith.
Levitz is no newcomer to Jewish activities. A graduate of UofL and Spalding, the career educator taught at Louisville Beit Sefer Yachad for 12 years before moving over to fundraising. She also taught high school literature and middle school grammar at Valor Academy from 2001-04.

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