Amid the hustle and bustle surrounding the end of the semester and final exam preparations, one student organization took a break to celebrate. On Dec. 4, Hillel celebrated Hanukkah a little early.

Complete with a latke (potato pancake) bar, games and a lighting of the menorah, students from around San Antonio visited the Barshop Jewish Community Center to gather one last time before the end of the semester and enjoy the company of peers who share their beliefs.

Each student left with a gift bag filled with a latke recipe, a dreidal (a top), gelt (chocolate coins), directions on how to play a game called “dreidal,” two candles, matches and a card with the blessings for the candles.

“This is what I would like to call ‘A First Night of Hanukkah Survival Kit,’” director Samantha Mazuz playfully said.

Hillel, an internationally recognized Jewish student organization, empowers students to take pride in their Jewish heritage and connect with other community members around the city.

Although this was the big end of year event for Hillel, they aren’t finished yet. On Friday, Dec. 12, Hillel will be hosting a study break for students to gather and enjoy some snacks while socializing.

Hillel is even in full swing for next year, already planning the future events that will be held throughout the semester.

“We are looking forward to the enthusiasm that has been put forward through this past fall semester (for next year),” Mazuz said.

Hillel, whose group mission is to enrich the lives of students so they can enrich the lives of others, is dedicated to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for Jewish college students so they can grow intellectually, spiritually and socially.

“Being part of Hillel gives me the opportunity to connect with others who share my beliefs,” Jessica Cohn, a UTSA student who attends Hillel events, said.

“Being a college student isn’t easy in today’s culture where morals seem to be sinking,” Cohn continued. “Being able to gather with other students not only allows me the social interaction but helps reaffirm my own faith and belonging.”

Hillel aims to enable students to embrace their Jewish identity and form a sense of community with other Jewish students.

“My job,” Mazuz explained, “is to form a welcoming environment for Jewish students to come, connect socially, and celebrate Jewish traditions and even spark Jewish conversations.”

And that is exactly what Hillel has been doing this semester.

Holding bi-monthly lunches on campus to help foster a sense of community and offer students the opportunity to meet, the members of Hillel seek to encourage each other and form a connection with others who share their values.

“At the beginning of the semester, the students would walk into the room quietly, come to me and get their food,” Mazuz said. “But now excitement and admiration for one another has grown and the conversations have become deeper. Throughout the semester, a bond has formed for sure.”

Hillel has held many events over the past semester, including bringing in guest speakers to share their stories about their heritage and traveling to Israel on a Birthright Israel trip, something that sparked interested with Cohn.

“I’ve never been to Israel and never really had the desire to go,” Cohn stated. “But after hearing one of the guest speakers, Izzy Ezagui, talk about his experience and journey to Israel, I knew it was something I really needed to do. And that wouldn’t have entered my thoughts if it weren’t for Hillel being on campus.”

Hillel does more than help Jewish students connect with one another – the organization helps students connect with their religion.

“I feel that Hillel is growing in the best possible way. We are definitely engaging the Jewish students and building a family in San Antonio. I love it!” Mazuz said.

For more information about joining the organization next semester or stopping by one of their many events, like The REAL Hillel at UTSA on Facebook or email info@sahillel.org.

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