StL Hillel Takes Freshmen Off Campus and 'Into the Wild'
Experience offered 70 Jewish students a chance to bond to learn about Jewish resources on campus.
Over Labor Day this year, St. Louis Hillel commenced the new year with Into the Wild, an overnight retreat for Jewish freshmen. In its 10th year, this popular off-campus excursion takes students out of their usual surroundings and allows them to connect with other Jewish freshmen and student leaders within the Washington University Jewish community. It also helps to familiarize Jewish freshmen with the Jewish resources and opportunities awaiting them back on campus.
This year, Into the Wild moved to a new overnight camp, Camp Manitowa, located in Rend Lake, Illinois (www.campmanitowa.com). About an hour and a half from Washington University, Camp Manitowa is nestled in the woods right on the water and provided an ideal locale for the 30-hour experience. Students could participate in various camp activities such as kayaking and canoeing on the waterfront, a high ropes course, swimming, gaga (a favorite camp game similar to dodge-ball), and basketball or beach volleyball. With more than 70 Jewish students in attendance, the beautiful weather and a plethora of outdoor activities, the retreat was a huge success.
Not only is Into the Wild an opportunity for Jewish freshmen to meet one another and engage in fun camp activities, it also provides the participants a chance to meet leaders and mentors within the campus Jewish community through peer-led programs and other activities. St. Louis Hillel staff work closely with Jewish Student Union (JSU) board members and First Year Students of Hillel (FYSH) Liaisons (a select group of upperclassmen tasked with engaging Jewish freshmen) to develop fun and educational programming. JSU leaders created three sessions in the areas of cultural & educational programming (focusing on Israel), religious programming (baking challah and discussing Shabbat and holidays) and social justice programming (discussing tikkun olam - repairing the world).
FYSH Liaisons planned the social and bonding aspects of the retreat with a photo scavenger hunt, Bear Mitzvah (dance & pool party), a campfire complete with smores and singing and an activity called "boundary breakers," which allows students to connect on a deeper level in small groups. FYSH spent the majority of their time building relationships with the freshmen in their designated groups and will work to maintain those relationships back on campus over the course of the year through one-on-one interactions and FYSH programs coordinated specifically for freshmen.
Into the Wild is the annual kick-off to St. Louis Hillel's engagement program, wherein Hillel professional staff and trained student interns focus on engaging uninvolved Jewish students and helping them to create and participate in meaningful Jewish experiences. The retreat continues to be an incredible opportunity for Jewish freshmen to meet one another and connect over their shared experiences as young Jews from around the country. Through Into the Wild and other similar engagement programs, St. Louis Hillel strives to continue to foster Jewish identities among students at Washington University and to provide a space for them to form lasting relationships with their peers.
Into the Wild and the FYSH engagement program are generously underwritten, in part, by Eugene & Debra Horwitz through a matching grant they established directed to parents. Eugene served as Chair of St. Louis Hillel's Board of Directors from 1995-97.
St. Louis Hillel at Washington University seeks to inspire Jewish college students to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life. Its mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students in St. Louis, so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. St. Louis Hillel provides a variety of meaningful Jewish experiences and opportunities for students including alternative break service trips, trips to Israel through Taglit Birthright Israel, Shabbat and holiday services and meals, and social justice, cultural, social, and educational programs. St. Louis Hillel is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and is accredited by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. For more information about St. Louis Hillel call 314-935-9040 or go to www.stlouishillel.org.