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As universities reopen, Hillels navigate the transition

Jewish Times | Baltimore

By Courtney Cohn  |  July 26, 2021

Hillels miss having in-person events, services and learning. Organic moments between students and staff in the hallway or in an office are the hardest things to recreate on Zoom. You can’t walk into someone’s office virtually. As their universities require students and staff to be vaccinated and are starting to open up, Hillels hope to return in person, so they can have these moments again.

Towson University Hillel

Every morning, Lisa Bodziner, executive director of Towson Hillel, thinks about being able to have daily, typical interactions with her students again. Even if it’s just a student talking about their exam or how stressed they are, it means so much to be able to connect with them, she said.

[You Should Know … Lisa Bodziner]

She is excited for Towson to be 100% reopened next semester.

After this past spring break, Towson Hillel started doing outdoor Shabbat events and meals, in line with safety guidelines. In addition, Towson Hillel had meal deliveries for those who were not comfortable being in person. They will continue this in the fall, along with livestreaming services and classes to cater to everyone’s comfort levels.

In addition to being more comfortable, virtual may still be easier for some people. Board members could participate in meetings from home and some students could learn remotely.

“Sometimes the remote world is going to be more convenient for people,” Bodziner said.

While it may be more convenient, Bodziner believes there is nothing like being in person and being able to talk to anyone who walks into the lounge at the Hillel or anyone hanging out during the lunch hour.

“There’s incredible hype around everyone being together in person and supporting each other socially, intellectually, religiously and community wise,” Bodziner said.

There is still some uncertainty for what the upcoming semester holds for all Hillels, but one thing is clear: They will do whatever they can to support their students during this time.

COVID Wins, COVID Awakenings

Na'aleh | The Hub For Leadership Learning

JUNE 17, 2021  |  Communal insights

By: Lisa Bodziner, Executive Director, Towson University Hillel

One year ago, my life was completely scheduled to the tee. Wake up. Get kids ready. Lunches, extra clothes, water bottles, blankets—all packed up, let’s go! Ten-minute drive to drop off and then off to work. (Check emails 10 times before arrival, but never while driving!).

At work, we were all soaring. Staff, students, board, donors; the University making it clear with the promise that this would be the strongest year yet for Towson Hillel and our University. In 2019/20 we had our highest number of social engagements: 270 events (before March) and 1,368 one-on-one unique interactions. We reached 40% of the Jewish student population (breadth) and had 6+ touchpoints with 10% of the Jewish student population (depth). Life was incredibly busy, some would say unhealthy, but everything was GREAT.

Yesterday, the morning started with my 4-year-old declaring, “I’ve done two nice things, Ima (Hebrew for mother). I helped Lila and sang Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star to Bella during her nap.” My husband had to get a COVID test; the kids couldn’t be sent to school; our staff retreat was postponed.

And so. The kids and our new puppy were at home with Ima for the day; another day in quarantine. How did I do this for seven months? How did any of us do it? The stress is real.

In a moment of reflection, I dare say out loud that this year has also been unbelievable.

I’ve been privileged. I’ve had moments with my kids I know I wouldn’t have had—and will not have again. Mornings at home, all of us in our pajamas WAY past seven in the morning, have been magical.

Whether you are a working mom, an essential employee, first line worker, in fact, no matter who you are, you know— we all know— the past nine months have been hard to put into words.

Hillels in Maryland Nurture Mental Health During COVID-19 Pandemic

The Associated | Jewish Federation of Baltimore

JANUARY 25, 2021

Emotional Wellbeing Meets Jewish Connection at College Campuses

In a year in which the norm was upended, when college students went virtual or stayed at home, the Hillels stepped in. Recognizing the negative implications of a world gone astray – of social isolation on young adults – they merged building Jewish connection and identity with ways to ensure connectedness and emotional wellbeing.

Lisa Bodziner, Towson Hilell’s Executive Director, began planning for these changes last spring. When summer arrived, she and her staff were on the phone, contacting students. The network even kicked into gear, reaching out to recent grads who had lost their jobs, offering employment help.

“During the pandemic, every population has been vulnerable, including students. For many, particularly freshmen and transfers, who may not know a soul, our goal was to nurture mental health and Jewish identity while building social connection. We tried our hardest to be that home away from home,” she says.

Ethan Litofsky, a senior transfer student to Towson, was on Towson Hillel’s new student Zoom call. A native Baltimorean, he was now starting at a new school, while living at home.

“I remember, after the call I stayed on the line with Lisa. I had sung in high school and college and asked her about creating a choir for Shabbat services. Since then, we created a choir with several students, and we sang together, wearing masks and standing six feet apart, for the virtual Shabbat services. It has been a great way for me to meet new students, while doing something I really enjoy.”

For universities like Towson and Goucher, that went fully remote, with little or no on-campus living, programming was also reimagined.

 DECEMBER 15, 2020

Hillel International Honors TU Hillel

At virtual Global Assembly, world’s largest Jewish campus organization recognizes outstanding individuals, outstanding campus Hillel’s

WASHINGTON – Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, yesterday honored outstanding Hillel professionals and campus Hillels that are creating innovative Jewish experiences and meaningful connections throughout the pandemic. Among those Hillel recognized was Towson University Hillel

Towson University Hillel exemplifies the way in which Hillels throughout the world continue to inspire and support students, notwithstanding the profound challenges and disruptions of this past year,” said Hillel International President and CEO Adam Lehman. “We’re always proud of the work of our talented professionals, but especially now given how they’ve reimagined Hillel experiences to meet the unique needs of students during this period.”

The awards, which recognize those who embody Hillel’s culture of excellence, were presented at Hillel International’s annual Global Assembly, which nearly 1,000 Hillel professionals from around the world joined virtually this year for professional development, networking, and continuing education.

From the director, “Towson University Hillel is honored to receive this award. It has been a team and personal goal to win an award at the Hillel International Global Leadership conference. For it to be an award in the name of Joseph Meyerhoff adds all the more significance and meaning for our local Baltimore community. In times like these, there is truly nothing more meaningful then this wonderful news to share with our community, family, friends and students.”

The Joseph Meyerhoff Award for Jewish Educational Vision, for campus Hillels that successfully developed and implemented creative and innovative strategies in Jewish education. This year’s honoree is Towson University Hillel.

About Hillel International
Founded in 1923, Hillel has been enriching the lives of Jewish students for more than 90 years. Today, Hillel International is a global organization that welcomes students of all backgrounds and fosters an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. Hillel is dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. As the largest Jewish student organization in the world, Hillel builds connections with emerging adults at more than 550 colleges and universities, and inspires them to direct their own path. During their formative college years, students are challenged to explore, experience, and create vibrant Jewish lives.

You Should Know…McKenna Bates

Jewish Times | Baltimore

Towson University Hillel’s newest Israel engagement associate, McKenna Bates, is also a Girl Scout. Bates lives in Severn, and though she moved a lot as a kid, considers herself to be from Southern Virginia.

Bates shows off the new Kosher station at her school. (courtesy of mckenna bates)

What does your Jewish identity mean to you?
Originally when we moved to Virginia, I was 7 or 8, and originally I would say, “Hi, I’m Jewish, I’m McKenna.” I think it goes to show there is no separation. I am Jewish. There is no difference. It’s my life. It shapes my value and who I am. If I was not as involved in Jewish education, I would be a completely different person. As much as my mom would like to tie my leadership skills to Girl Scouts, I think I’ve learned it from every Jewish professional I’ve met.

You just started your job as Israel engagement associate at Towson University Hillel. What is it like so far?
I have an interesting life so I expected to have an interesting time transitioning to it. Everyone has been really nice and accommodating. Moving here has been great; everyone has been patient and wonderful. [In the job,] I do Israel programming, civic engagement and help facilitate people’s engagement to Israel. Israel is a magnifying glass to Jewish identity.

What is unique about Baltimore?
The culture is a little different from even Southern Virginia. It’s so different. People are a bit more welcoming, which is funny because you think of the north as not so southern charm. Everyone is well set in the community, and it’s really cool to see how huge the Jewish community is. There’s so many options for learning and engagement. At my university we didn’t have very many Jews. We couldn’t even dream of getting a kosher chicken. I ended up helping bring about the first ever kosher for Passover food station in the most popular dining hall. When I came [to] Towson, I was surprised there’s so many Jews here!

How Hillels are Handling COVID-19

The Associated | Jewish Federation of Baltimore

Lisa Bodziner, Executive Director at Hillel—Towson University.

As summer quickly approaches, many students and parents are thinking about the next step. What will fall semester look like? Will we be back on campus? And, if so, how will we socialize and connect in this age of social distancing?

We sat down with Lisa Bodziner, Executive Director at Towson University Hillel to talk about how Hillel has been adapting to the pandemic and what plans they have for the future.

What has been the biggest change you’ve seen since the stay-at-home orders?
I’m saying this in the most genuine way, but it’s weird how much stayed the same. Our team moved into virtual meetings quickly. Almost every program, like our one-on-ones sessions with students, Shabbat, and others, we maintained virtually. The one change I can say I did see was an increase in participation and attendance. Staff members, family and friends from all over could join and in some cases, students who may have been too shy before started participating.

Although we miss seeing our students hanging out in our lounge. We added a virtual lounge. We miss being able to give our students high fives.

What has been students’ feedback?
Honestly the students have been a major influence on some of our virtual programs. We weren’t sure if we should do the virtual lounge and they said, ‘please do it, we want to see everyone and eat our lunch together.’ They helped encourage us to maintain our programming through the summer, even on Shabbat. It’s so nice to see a familiar face or to come together in a song. I think there’s a piece of warmth and spirituality when a community comes together like that.

University Campuses Close, But Hillels Don’t Stop Working

Jewish Times | Baltimore

Sara Evangelista (top center) and Johns Hopkins Hillel’s student board during a Zoom meeting.

Universities in Maryland have moved classes online and closed down campus housing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing students to return home, away from their campus Jewish communities.

Hillel staff members are working to keep their communities engaged, all while providing academic, spiritual, and emotional support.

Livestreamed Shabbat services, art and yoga classes over Zoom, WhatsApp movie nights, and digital happy hours have all been embraced.

At Towson University Hillel, students can log on to Zoom or Instagram and participate in an Israeli cooking tutorial, a film screening, a musical Kabbalat Shabbat, or a contest to show off their work-from-home environment.

“In addition to having 15 to 20 Towson students at each of our virtual events, we are also now seeing this expansion of who can show up in our community,” Towson Hillel Program Director Leora Match said. “We’ve been getting siblings and family members of our students. We’ve been getting Towson Hillel governing board members and students from other universities.”

Towson University Holds Panel Discussion on Hate Speech on Campus

Jewish Times | Baltimore

Image provided by Jewish Times

Approximately one hundred people attended a panel discussion titled “Hate Speech on Campus: A Conversation,” held at at Towson University on Wednesday Oct. 2.

Sponsored by Towson University Hillel, The Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC), Towson University Hebrew Institute and The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, the panel featured U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.); Dr. Sanaullah Kirmani, faculty advisor to the Muslim Student Association; and Dr. Cynthia Cooper, Acting Associate Dean, College of Fine Arts and Communications. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Joel Bolling, senior director of the Center for Student Diversity and a board member of Towson University Hillel.

It was Cardin who reached out to express his desire to have a dialogue with the students on the issue. Lisa Bodziner, executive director of Baltimore Hebrew Institute (BHI), shared in her opening remarks. BHI holds a special place for Senator Cardin as his wife, Bodziner added, Myrna Cardin (who was in the audience) is an alumna.

Each panelist provided their perspective on what constitutes hate speech, followed by questions from the audience.

“Hate speech demands an expressed hostility or disdain towards the Other,” said Dr. Kirmani. “To remain silent in the face of open hate is to side with that expression.” Kirmani authored the article “The Holocaust, Reflections of a Muslim” in a 1997 edition of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies.

Towson University ranked, for the first time, among top national schools by U.S. News & World Report

The Baltimore Sun

For the first time, Towson University ranks among the top national schools, according to U.S. News & World Report. The university ranked as the 98th-best public school and 197th-best overall school nationally for 2020. (Steve Ruark/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

U.S. News & World Report for the first time ranked Towson University among top national schools this year. Previously, it had been ranked as a top regional, but not national, school.

Towson University ranked as the 98th-best public school and 197th-best overall school nationally for 2020. The rankings were released Monday. Towson University tied with Illinois State University in both rankings.

“This recognition reflects the excellence of our world-class faculty, coupled with the relevance and rigor of our degree programs,” University President Kim Schatzel said in a statement.

For the last three years, Towson University has ranked in the top 15 public schools in the northern region. Towson was “thrust” into the national category because of a change in its Carnegie Classification, officials said in a release. 

Film on Team Israel to be Presented at Towson Hillel Event

JMore | Baltimore Jewish Living

Team Israel players are shown here in 2017 lining up for the singing of the national anthem prior to the World Baseball Classic game against the Netherlands. (Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

Veteran filmmaker Jeremy Newberger says his latest documentary happened almost by accident. Good timing, an abundance of preparations and a confluence of events helped make “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” a reality, he says.

The 87-minute film tells the David-and-Goliath story of Israel’s national baseball team while competing for the first time in the World Baseball Classic of 2017. With a roster including many Jewish-American Major League Baseball players – such as Ike Davis, Josh Zeid and ex-Braves catcher Ryan Lavarnway — the team made sports history and won the hearts of Jews around the world.

“Heading Home,” which was released last year, will be screened on Sunday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Hillel Lounge at Newell Dining Hall at Towson University. The screening will be hosted by Towson Hillel and the Jewish Tigers Alumni Alliance. READ MORE >>

The Times of Israel | The Blogs

Jake Campbell, Assistant Director at Towson University- Hillel

Towson Hillel Assistant Director, Jake Campbell

Jake Campbell is the Assistant Director of Hillel at Towson University. He was previously the Executive Director of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, the Jewish Student Life Coordinator and Ezra Fellow of Hillel at Florida State University and a founding resident of Moishe House Sydney. Before making the switch to Jewish Higher Education and Nonprofits, Jake worked in a corporate higher education company as a team leader of the mentor department and previous to that was a high school English and History teacher.

You Should Know… Lisa Bodziner

Jewish Times | Baltimore

Lisa Bodziner, Executive Director at Towson University- Hillel

A native of Savannah, Georgia, Lisa Bodziner has lived in Baltimore for eight years. Before Baltimore, she attended the University of Wisconsin—Madison and then lived in Israel to study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies where she received her master’s degree in Jewish Education. After teaching sixth through twelfth grade in California, Bodziner moved to Baltimore where she has worked at a number of venerable Jewish institutions including the Pearlstone Center and The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education. Bodziner currently works at the executive director of Towson University Hillel.

What Jewish rituals and traditions mean the most to you?

Certainly the general concept of community. My husband and I, we come from different places but what we want to instill in our children is the value of community and taking care of everybody whether they’re mourning or just had a baby. I think our tradition does an incredible job of teaching each one of us that it really is incumbent upon us to not just take care of our immediate family but to lovingly and openly and warmly embrace all people. So the concept of kehillah (community) means a lot to us.

And Shabbat, just as an experience to unplug and be with family and friends and not be distracted by screens and technology, is sacred for us and our family and our community. 

And I think that the concept of hakhnasat orchim just warmly welcoming guests. I serve as a lay leader at my shul and I really feel like my job is to make everyone feel at home.

How did you become a sofer?

I have always been kind of crafty and loved hands-on activities, I was a street vendor in college and sold jewelry and crafts, did metalsmithing. So I got to Israel and was learning, like 10 hours a day and I was kind of missing that creative element. A sofer came and said he was offering private classes for people to learn how to scribe the Hebrew alphabet. It was an incredible opportunity because you can get to learn about the characters of the alphabet and meditating on each Hebrew letter. I got really into it and then people started asking me to make pieces for them. And then I scribed ketubot, wedding documents, for married couples, I ended up scribing my own ketubah for our wedding. As an observant Jewish woman, I don’t scribe mezzuzot or Torah or tefillin, but it’s certainly still an incredible experience to be able to sit down and really meditate on the Hebrew alphabet, and have that creative connection with Judaism and the Hebrew letters. I did my best friends’ ketubot, and psalms or Eshel Chayil, woman of valor for other people. So it really satisfied that creative side of me and continues to.

Israel Fellows Changing Campus Narrative

The Associated | Jewish Federation of Baltimore

(left to right: Leora Match, Program Director, Shachar Pinsky, Israel Fellow, and Lisa Bodziner, Executive Director at Towson Hillel)

It had only been four months since Shachar Pinsky arrived on Towson University’s campus as its new Jewish Agency Israel Fellow.

Hoping to strengthen students’ connections to Israel, and working closely with the campus Hillel, he was beginning to see results. At times, he admits, it wasn’t easy. Many of the Jewish students he encountered were apathetic. In their world, filled with academics, sports, activities and friendships, Israel was just not that important. Yet, here he was in Israel, leading a group of Towson Hillel students on a Birthright trip over winter break.

Towson University Hillel Celebrates 21

Jewish Times | Baltimore

(left to right: Leora Match, Program Director, Shachar Pinsky, Israel Fellow, and Lisa Bodziner, Executive Director at Towson Hillel)

More than 150 people turned out in the rain May 5 to celebrate Towson University Hillel’s 21st birthday. Billed as “Cheers and Peers to 21 Years!” the event included food and drink; music by False Peak and Tall in the Saddle; a children’s area; and Jewish organization and information booths.

The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s Ruth Miller and Towson University president Dr. Kim Schatzel made an appearance.

“Overall it was a phenomenal day with a great turnout,” said Towson Hillel executive director Lisa Bodziner. “Despite the weather, people came out to have a good time, show their support and celebrate Towson Hillel turning 21!

I couldn’t have asked for more of a community event and it was super fun for the kids to get face paint and dance in the rain! There were young families, board members, students, parents and so many community partners and sponsors here that came out to say ‘ain’t no rain gonna come down on my parade,’ and you really could feel that warmth.”

Towson University unity rally: 'We have the right to protest against the hatred and bigotry'

The Baltimore Sun


Towson University Muslim organizations and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) hold a unity rally Wednesday on campus at Freedom Square. The rally is to counter last week’s appearance of a group from Pennsylvania protesting Muslims, gay people and other groups. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Iqra Zulfiqar, a Muslim freshman at Towson University, said she chose her school for the “vibe” — it felt welcoming. So when five members of a church in Pennsylvania arrived on campus last week bearing signs saying Muslims are destined for “hellfire,” Zulfiqar said seeing hundreds of students peacefully counterprotesting was heartening. “The response from students could not have been better,” said Zulfiqar, 18. “It was just pure unity.”

Students from the school’s Muslim community and other campus groups reaffirmed that unity Wednesday, less than a week later, with a rally hosted by the Muslim Student Association and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Last week’s protest, which began on campus and was moved to a public road, was met by hundreds of student counterprotesters who waved gay pride flags and chanted “love is love.

Towson Hillel Celebrates 21st Birthday with Festival

JMore | Baltimore Jewish Living


Towson University alumni Janna Zuckerman (right) and Heidi Rose hang with the Towson Tigers mascot, Doc the Tiger, at Towson Hillel’s 20th anniversary kickoff event. (Handout)

It’s not every day that you turn 21. So for this milestone, Towson Hillel will celebrate its 21st with an outdoor family-friendly music festival and fund-raiser on May 5 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Tiger Plaza, 251 University Ave., on the campus.

The event will include family-oriented activities, tables from local organizations, live music from the bands Tall in the Saddle and False Peak, and a beer garden for those over the age of 21.

The gathering will also recognize new Hillel board members and graduating seniors. “Our seniors have an emotional connection to Hillel,” said Lisa Bodziner, executive director of Towson Hillel.

TU transforming Armory into hub for partnership & connection

Towson University News


Great things ahead at Towson University.

Towson University has entered into a long-term lease agreement at the former Maryland National Guard building in uptown Towson.

Towson University takes another step in President Kim Schatzel’s Together Towson initiative by utilizing a unique uptown Towson space to serve as the new “front door” to the university. In doing so, TU continues forward in its role as a major anchor institution and economic-driver in Great Baltimore.

The former Maryland National Guard Armory building will serve as the home for a number of programs and offices focused on community engagement and outreach, entrepreneurship, continuing education and workforce development. Following our anchor scan strategy and aligned with the BTU Presidential Priority, this vibrant and public-focused space will create new engagement opportunities for regional leaders to connect, convene, and collaborate alongside TU’s faculty, staff, and students.