Facing a 22 percent decrease in donations from last year, GW Hillel launched its third annual Chai campaign last week to raise funds from parents and alumni as the extra expenses of the upcoming Passover holiday loom.
GW Hillel, a non-profit Jewish organization based on campus, hopes to receive $18,000 by the start of Passover. More than 80 percent of the organization’s operating budget comes from the local Jewish community, parents, alumni and grants, said Hillel Director Rob Fishman.
In an e-mail sent to supporters, Fishman called the fundraising campaign “urgent.” He wrote that Hillel “cannot remain fiscally sound” without the support of outside donors.
The Jewish Federation and many grant organizations are offering less money in contributions this year, Fishman said. With these setbacks, Hillel is trying to cut costs where necessary, including not hiring a new rabbi – something Fishman had hoped to do this year. Hillel’s rabbi left last year and the position has not been filled, despite urging from the Jewish Student Association.
Fishman stressed, however, that programming at Hillel has not been affected by the financial issues.
“We are not at all concerned about getting through this semester with a high level of programming and services we’ve provided all year,” Fishman said. “Our responsibility is to provide for all Jewish students for whatever it is they need to empower them as Jews.”
The current campaign derives its name from the Hebrew letter chai, which means “life,” and is represented by the number 18 – hence the campaign goal of $18,000 in contributions. Hillel leadership said it can reach its goal if half the people solicited as part of an e-mail campaign donate $18.00.
“Eighteen dollars is a symbolic number meaning ‘to life,’ ” Fishman said. “We feel what we do here is provide life for Jewish students and it’s a nice way of reminding people about what we do and asking for help at the same time.”
Fishman estimates GW Hillel reaches 1,400 Jewish students throughout the year – roughly 40 percent of the Jewish population at GW – through their programming, which includes religious services, language classes, political speakers, cooking classes, meals and special events.
Passover creates additional expenses for Hillel due to the dietary restrictions of the holiday, including not eating leavened food, rice or corn. New kitchen supplies must be purchased and the kitchen must be made kosher for Passover. Hillel will provide lunches and dinners during the week-long holiday as the organization tries to maintain the same level of service on a smaller budget.
Jewish Student Association President Josh Abrams said that although the money Hillel receives from the Student Association for programming has remained consistent, it is harder to raise money to expand the social aspect of Hillel. Although the subsidized Shabbat dinner may have to be eliminated, the SA funds ensure little will change before the end of the year.
But Abrams said raising money is increasingly difficult in the country’s tough financial times.
Hillel usually hosts two annual “Hillelathons” to make phone solicitations to alumni for contributions, but Abrams said they may not have another one this year after unusually disappointing results from the first event.
“We have a couple students taking it upon themselves to try to bring in money, but people are strapped for cash,” Abrams said.
For the many students who rely on Hillel as their connection to Jewish culture on campus, donations to the organization are increasingly important to keep it thriving.
Sophomore Samantha Shabman regularly attends Friday night services and hopes the chance to worship and attend services will not change with the downturn in the economy.
“Some people use Hillel as a social outlet, while others use it solely for religious purposes,” Shabman said. “I would expect an increased number of students attending services during these tumultuous economic times.”
This article appeared in the March 26, 2009 issue of the Hatchet.