URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — It’s not every day that you can celebrate a century of impact. On Sunday, the Illini Hillel threw a party complete with many different generations, honoring those who came before while inspiring those who will come after.
It’s an organization creating a community for Jewish students. For some it was like a waltz in the past, and for others, it was a reason to look to the future. The message of it all is still the same: to show what a community can do when they come together.
“Our world does not feel very festive right now. But that does not mean that we cannot or should not be proud of our accomplishments,” Executive Director Erez Cohren said.
The Illini Hillel was founded in 1923 as a place to welcome students of the Jewish community. It was during a time when they felt anything but.
“It’s hard to believe that Hillel started here in Champaign-Urbana as a small student organization, which sparked a worldwide movement,” Cohren said.
Now, one hundred years later, it has grown from a couple hundred Jewish University of Illinois students to nearly 3,000 Illini.
“This is the celebration of the past 100 years, but also be excited, looking forward to the next 100 years of Hillel,” Cohren said.
It now reaches further than imagined, with Hillel groups all over the world.
“This is in a time where Jewish students feel attacked, and they can come here and feel celebrated. And it really means the world for me that we are able to give them that experience,” Cohren said.
Current students helped to tell the tales of those before them.
“We chose to not be the Jews of silence. When the rally was over, we were back to the Hillel Foundation to continue the service and celebrations,” said Omer Israel, a student in the group.
Cohren said what’s happening now against the Jewish community is eerily similar to events of the past. He added that molding students to become future leaders is a way to have them not just witness change, but to become a crucial part of creating it.
“Even as times seem bleak, or times seem to be sad, only by getting together as a community are we able to get over the challenges that we’re facing,” Cohren said.
Now Hillel is focusing on raising a $10 million endowment to ensure the future of the student organization.