Penn Hillel Executive Director and campus rabbi, Mike Uram won the 2016 National Jewish Book Award for Education and Jewish Identity for his new book "Next Generation Judaism: How College Students and Hillel Can Help Reinvent Jewish Organizations."
The book examines how millennials on college campuses are reinventing Jewish life.
“The book is really a collection of all sorts of methodologies,” Uram said, “so many Jewish organizations have fixated on this question on how do we survive, how do we recruit the next generation?”
His answer is "inverting the values pyramid," a theory that focuses on impact and mission rather than the organization itself.
“It’s really about the quality of the experience as opposed to the health of the organization,” Uram said.
The premise of his book was developed through his work at Penn Hillel and the Jewish Renaissance Project, an organization he recreated in 2007 to form a more personalized Jewish experience for students on campus outside the establishment of Penn Hillel.
“What Rabbi Mike writes about and practices in his life is that this is a student led organization and staff is here to empower and support students,” Engagement Associate at Penn Hillel Aliza Caplan said. “They can find a home here.”
Under Uram’s leadership the "home" has been growing. In the past 10 years JRP has grown even larger than Hillel with its 1,300 students topping Hillel’s 1,000.
Penn Hillel Engagement Associate Mia Yellin added that “by the numbers, [Uram] has doubled the engagement or the reach that Penn Hillel has.”
What makes Rabbi Mike’s approach unique, Director of Jewish Student Life at Penn Hillel Ira Blum said, is that “students are encouraged to seek out and pursue their own Jewish experience and their own Jewish growth. We don’t have any agenda, we’re not trying to get students to do anything except to figure out who they want to be."
Yellin echoed these sentiments. The organization’s goal, she said, is to help “empower students to create their own Jewish experiences on campus.”
"University of Pennsylvania and Wharton are known for their innovation,” Yellin said, "This book definitely helps establish Penn Hillel as a frontrunner in Jewish innovation nationwide."
Uram noted that this approach has been mimicked by other universities.
"This is now a model that has been spread to 120 campuses around the world,” Uram said. "What the Jewish community can look like is being worked out on college campuses."
He attributed the model's success to the enthusiasm of the students.
“It’s a testament to the amazing students at Penn," Uram said. "It’s also a testament to the incredibly vibrant and entrepreneurial culture that exists on Penn’s campus."
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