Despite enjoying vacation in Israel over the summer with Meor, a campus Jewish organization, Naomi Pitkoff still couldn’t stop worrying whether she’d be one of 19 students chosen throughout the world for the Hillel International Student Cabinet.
“I was really excited to be selected,” said Pitkoff, a junior public health major. “Since I was in Israel, I had thought I missed a call or email, but when I found out, I was really honored.”
Global Jewish organization Hillel International started the student cabinet in 2016 as a way to mentor Jewish college students and receive their input. Pitkoff is the first Temple student the cabinet has chosen to serve on the prestigious board.
Hillel International is present on more than 550 college campuses in 17 different countries, including Brazil, Russia and Canada. It creates a large network of young Jewish students on campus to meet and participate in various activities. The student cabinet connects Jewish college students internationally through a global Hillel network.
“The student cabinet allows Hillel International to directly benefit from perspectives and opinions of Jewish college students from around the world,” said Sheila Katz, the vice president of student engagement and leadership at Hillel International. “If we are in need of a student perspective, our cabinet is the first we call on.”
Pitkoff said she is excited about the nomination because she hopes to meet new people, gain greater leadership skills and help other Jewish communities. She has been actively involved in Temple’s Hillel chapter since the start of her college career in 2016.
From Summer 2008 to Summer 2014 , Pitkoff attended Camp Ramah, a Jewish sleepaway camp in the Pocono Mountains, as a camper and returned as a staff member every summer beginning in 2016. She is now a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi, a Jewish sorority. These experiences connected her with other Jewish community members and inspired her to get involved internationally.
“I wanted a bigger opportunity,” Pitkoff said. “I love being involved in Temple’s Hillel, but also want to impact other communities by being on the cabinet.”
During her freshman year, Pitkoff attended Hillel’s “FreshFest,” a student orientation that helps Jewish students meet each other and get to know Hillel International before school starts. It included early move-in and social activities.
Since then, she’s been heavily involved including attending Hillel events like weekly Shabbat dinners and went on Temple’s Birthright trip to Israel after her freshman year.
As a sophomore, Pitkoff worked at Hillel as Temple’s campus engagement intern, connecting with Jewish students not yet involved with Hillel by creating programs for them. Pitkoff organized several outreach events, including a student social for Sukkot, a Jewish holiday that commemorates the sheltering of the Israelites in the wilderness that occurs in fall.
Pitkoff is the president of Temple Hillel’s Jewish Education Board until the end of the semester.
The international student cabinet’s application process is highly competitive, Katz said. Students must fill out an application, submit a letter of recommendation from a professional who can vouch for their leadership skills, have other students endorse their leadership skills and then interview with the organization.
“The way we select them is meant to bring in the greatest diversity we can within our movement,” Katz said. “We intentionally build [the cabinet] so we can hear from different types of students on how things are going on their campuses from different perspectives.”
Susan Becker, the director of Jewish life at Temple Hillel, said Pitkoff’s cabinet appointment is significant.
“I’m excited for Temple to be represented, but also for her to have this opportunity,” she said.
Pitkoff will meet with the student cabinet for the first time in Austin, Texas, from Oct. 14-16 to discuss Hillel’s presence on their campuses.
“After being involved in Temple’s Hillel, I really look forward to seeing where this cabinet position takes me,” Pitkoff said.