On the Queens University campus, the month of May is bittersweet. On one hand, we celebrate the completion of a successful Hillel and academic year, and on the other, we bid farewell to our graduating Hillel students who have become central to our Hillel family and have evolved into great leaders.
One such student is graduating senior, Morasha Winokur. When Morasha arrived to Queens in August of 2016, she found a Hillel that had just been born. As she grew as a student, we, as a Hillel organization grew and evolved into an active, inviting, and warm Hillel family. Fast forward to May 2021, Morasha is graduating with a triple (yes, you read that right) major in Art History, Arts Leadership and Administration and Studio Art! During her tenure as a Presidential Scholar at Queens, Morasha served as Hillel President, Art Club President and is a member of Phi Alpha Theta (history honors society).
In reflecting on her years at Queens and on our fifth anniversary as a Queens Hillel, Morasha shared: “Who would have thought five years ago that we would be where we are today? Who would have thought five years ago that I am where I am today?
Five years ago, in the Fall of 2015, when I made the decision to join Queens, there was no Hillel and only one engaged Jewish student. I knew of the Jewish life initiative and the already strong commitment of so many of you to support the vision and I was inspired. I chose Queens, in part because I wanted to help build and craft what Hillel would become. I have watched us become a supportive warm thriving Queens Hillel family. We celebrate sacred time together (with good food) in a meaningful way. I’ve watched what we have done for the Queens campus. We are strong partners in the interfaith community. We share Jewish culture, Jewish teachings, and our passion with Queens. The amazing Art, Design, and Music faculty and the Hillel at Queens have prepared me for my next steps; and have made the campus feel like home.
Even in my major, I have brought Judaism to life on the campus. I helped paint the RBG dissent collar Chanukah menorah mural that was featured in the Jewish Forward, a national newspaper. I helped create a masterpiece that connects us nationally to seven other communities and inspiring art pieces. I have spent the past year in the pottery studio creating Judaica, specifically candlesticks, kiddush cups, and seder plates. I will carry these objects, symbolizing the sweetness and light I gained at Queens, with me throughout my life.”
What makes Queens Hillel unique is that it is not only home to our Jewish students but to those seeking to build interfaith bridges of understanding. Graduating senior, Keegan Rapp, decided to join Hillel four years ago, not because he was Jewish but because, as a non-religious person committed to bettering himself and our world, he sought to learn about the Jewish faith. For his first experience, he chose to join the 25-hour Yom Kippur fast alongside our Hillel students. As he reflected on his four years of being associated with Hillel, he said his favorite Hillel holiday was Yom Kippur. Why? He said, “because the next day you wake up with a sense of gratitude.”
Hillel at Queens is truly a “home away from home” for our students. The two Hillel “moms,” Rabbi Judy Schindler and Talli Dippold nurture the students by creating a family that is always accepting, supportive and nurturing (food!). From our well-known Soul Food Shabbat, to High Holiday services, to our cherished Mimi’s Matzo Ball Soup giveaways and our challah treats, our students feel the love. Even during Covid, we engaged our students with virtual programs, food, gift deliveries, and personal touches.
Once a Queens Hillel member—always part of the family. We engage our alumni who regularly participate in programs and offer great advice to current students. Our motto has become, “There is always a seat at our Hillel table.”