A Day in the Life of… a Hillel Engagement Professional

 In Engaging

Going to college is perhaps the most exhilarating point in any given young adult’s life — even more so if they’re going to a prestigious school like UC Berkeley — but also one of the most fraught. Once they settle into their dorms, students have to deal with harder classes, a whole new social landscape, homesickness, and the need to be self-starting, self-sufficient, and accountable only to themselves.

And as if this wasn’t enough, there’s been a recent spike in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents on our college campuses, enough to make incoming students nervous (and strike terror in the hearts of their Jewish mothers).

Fortunately, first-year Jewish students are likely to find Berkeley Hillel soon after arriving on campus. And when they eventually reach out to Berkeley Hillel, Molly Shapiro will be there, welcoming them with open arms and freshly-brewed coffee. From that point on, she introduces Jewish freshmen to the plethora of Jewish organizations and communal activities at UC Berkeley, including Hillel, of course — but also Chabad, the Bayit (a Jewish student co-op), the Magnes, Jewish and Israel-related clubs, and others.

Berkeley Hillel Engagement Director Molly Shapiro takes a selfie while tabling at Sproul Plaza.

Berkeley Hillel Engagement Director Molly Shapiro takes a selfie while tabling at Sproul Plaza.

“Sure, it may get divisive at times,” says Molly, referring to the anti-Israel episodes the UCs — and UC Berkeley in particular — have become infamous for. “But students, for the most part, don’t feel afraid to be Jewish. There’s a lot of opportunity for them to learn, speak up, and be Jewish the way they want to.”

As Director of Engagement, Molly’s role is akin to that of a concierge for students. She tries to know every resource and every student, and her goal is for students to feel welcome in the Jewish community.

Because of this, Molly’s constantly reaching out to students — and particularly incoming students — by staffing Hillel’s table at Sproul Plaza, meeting students for coffee, and enlisting other students to join her freshman engagement fellowship. She also runs the Birthright program and is present at most of Hillel’s events (including a free, weekly BBQ, which always fills up). So it’s not long into each semester that her days start getting crazy.

Berkeley Hillel Engagement Director Molly Shapiro grabs some iced coffee with a student.

Berkeley Hillel Engagement Director Molly Shapiro grabs some coffee-flavored yogurt with a student.

But as hectic as her job can be — Molly estimates meeting over 100 students per year just at coffee meetings — she keeps going with the support of her “inspiring and incredible” staff, and in the knowledge that she’s positively changing students’ lives.

“College is already such a difficult time for students, in so many ways,” she says. “Being Jewish shouldn’t be another thing students need to worry about. I’m here to help make it easier to be Jewish on campus at UC Berkeley.”

Do you work, volunteer, or are in some way involved with the East Bay Jewish community? We want to tell your story! Click here to reach out to be profiled for our “Day in the Life” series — and in turn, get your organization’s word out to our community. Don’t delay!

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