Interview | Lisa Pleskow Kassow: Director, Trinity College Hillel and Senior Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life

Higher Learning Guide | Sponsored Content
By | Nov 08, 2017
2017 November-December

It’s the 70th anniversary of Trinity College Hillel. How has the college changed since you started almost 17 years ago?

We find ourselves at a difficult time, politically and socially in this country. All I would  say in reference to this moment is that it’s really important that there are options for students on campus where they can be themselves and where they can find people who are open to be with them on their path, and that’s equally true for Jews and non-Jews.  Of course, the students have changed. Hillel can’t be static. Programs are less formal. There’s more informal education.

What is an example of how you integrate Hillel into the college culture of a small university?

At Trinity, Hillel runs like a department or a program within the office of spiritual and religious life. My colleagues are the other chaplains on campus, as well as the women’s centers and academic departments that co-sponsor programs. Last year Israeli photographer Udi Goren led a program about photographing the Israel Trail. That was interesting to professors and students in environmental science. Another example of integration is we shared Shabbat with House of Peace, which is the culture club for students from Arab countries who want to learn about the Middle East. There were about 80 students and they had an opportunity to engage with a couple of pre-army, Israeli emissaries who are working in West Hartford. These young people from Israel were challenged and they had to find ways of communicating from the heart that were deep and honest and could get to how they feel about Israel and what they love about Israel. There are magic moments. You have to create the opportunities, not direct too much, and let students self-generate the ways they approach whatever is being discussed—and it requires a lot of trust.

What is your hope for the future of Trinity Hillel?

I hope that we continue to grow organically according to the needs and interest of students, that we maintain a sense of openness and appreciation for the breadth of Jewish experience throughout the world and that we can share that culture and history in such a way that students will continue to engage with it deeply and find their own path. I remain inspired and connected to basic Jewish values that Hillel was based on. These go way back;  they were so smart then. I don’t think we can improve upon them. These include: Do not separate yourself from the community. If not now, when? We’re not obligated to complete our work, but we can’t desist from it. These are guiding principles and so however the world, our crazy world, develops and situations play themselves out, we have to stay connected and true to those guiding principles.

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