Your latest update on Jewish student life at Penn State!

Parent & Alumni Newsletter - January 2016

Happy New Year! We hope that you had a meaningful holiday season! We are so excited to have your students back on campus for the spring semester. Many thanks for an incredible end to 2015. The fall semester brought incredible vibrancy to Jewish life on campus and we are looking forward to bringing that into the spring semester.

A few highlights from the fall include:
  • Our largest Parent and Family Weekend Brunch at Irving’s with 20 + families;
  • The first annual Jewish Leaders Gala including 130 Jewish student leaders, campus and community partners, and Penn State Hillel Board members welcomed special guest speakers President Eric Barron, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims, and several outstanding students;
  • A feature on Hillel International’s blog about our popular Chicken Soup Hotline;
  • And finally, Hanukkah, concluding the semester, engaged hundreds of students across campus!


First stop: Birthright Israel (Dec 21 – Jan 1, 2016)

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40 students traveled to Israel this winter for a ten-day, immersive experience touring Israel with Americans and Israeli participants! Birthright offers a space to wrestle with the complexities of Israel, Judaism, and identity. Students travel the country exploring the past, present, and future of Israel and the Jewish people. Each season, winter and summer, Penn State Hillel is able to take 40 students on this incredible journey. If you are interested in learning more, please contact our Director of Israel Engagement,Cydney Goldberg, at

Next stop: Poland (Dec 28 – Jan 4 2016)

Penn State Hillel, with a partnership with Aish Penn State, took 26 students to travel around Poland to learn about its history - from its beginning in the 1300s thru World War II and the Holocaust. In just under a week, students visited the cities of Warsaw, Lublin, Tarnow, Krakow, and Lodz. Accompanied by a tour guide from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum located in Jerusalem, students toured some of our history's darkest places - labor camps, death camps, and unmarked graves. We also had the opportunity to look at the vibrant life that thrived in Poland, be it in synagogues across the country, beautiful historic cemeteries, or in growing Jewish cities like Krakow. The trip was intense and introspective, and students and staff alike left with a firmer understanding of what Jewish life looked like in Eastern Europe, and with a steadfast commitment to building life back here at State College. For more information on the Poland trip, contact Assistant Director, Rob France, at

Last stop: Roatan, Honduras (Jan 2 – 9, 2016)

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This January, 8 Penn State students opted out of the typical beach vacation, packed up their work boots, and headed for the community of Roatan, Honduras for an Alternative Winter Break.

Why Roatan, Honduras? Ten years ago, 
Scott Fried, motivational speaker, HIV/AIDS educator, activist, and author, traveled to the island of Honduras on a holiday cruise. After a 6 hour excursion, Scott stumbled on the community of La Colonia in Roatan, Honduras, an extremely poor area lying 40 miles off the northern coast of Honduras. There, he discovered, 1 in 7 people lives with AIDS. After engaging with the locals and learning their stories, Scott vowed that he would go back to that community. This winter, in his 10th year of service, Scott invited his first group of students, the 8 Penn Staters, to help give back to the place that he fell in love with (read more about Scott’s work).

Prior to arriving in Honduras, the group had planned to help build steps leading up to a church in the community. Because La Colonia is very muddy, and nearly impossible to get around, Scott has devoted much of his work to building steps for better accessibility across the community. However, just weeks before the trip, a house had collapsed leaving a family of 5 without a home. Quickly, Scott rearranged the plans to help this family, temporarily living in a one-room shack, rebuild their home. 

The trip took place over the course of 7 days. Each day brought a new appreciation for a life we often take for granted. Each day, one of the 8 participants wrote about their experience on the 
Alternative Winter Break Blog. The students return to campus feeling humbled and full of gratitude for Scott’s work and the community of Roatan; they look forward to an opportunity to soon return! For more information on Alternative Break opportunities, contact our Director of Engagement, Leah Chakoff, at

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Mazel Tov to Ben and Michal Werner! Married on October 18, 2016 at Congregation Beth-El in Vorhees, NJ. Ben graduated from Penn State in 2010 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering, and Michal graduated from Penn State in 2011 with a BA in Media Studies. 
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With a vision to create a new home for Penn State Hillel solidly in place, many efforts are now underway to achieve this goal as soon as possible including the relaunch of our Capital and Endowment Campaign! 

The new facility, to be located on East Beaver Avenue, will be 25,000 square feet and will provide for the needs of current and future generations of Penn State Jewish students, and will house all of Hillel’s resources in one convenient, central location. It will serve as a focal point of Jewish life throughout campus, and as a hub of Jewish identity and expression. Upon completion of the campaign, Penn State Hillel will boast an exceptional facility and improved financial resources, resulting in a vastly enhanced and expanded program. This will ensure that Penn State remains one of the premiere centers of Jewish student life in the country. Penn State Hillel is at the heart of Jewish life on campus. Working closely with the Pennsylvania State University, Hillel actively partners with many other campus organizations to serve the estimated 5,000 Jewish students at Penn State. 
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