This year has been a difficult one for college students, many of whom never even made it back to campus. And for those that did, virtual classrooms and social distancing completely changed the traditional experience.

We reached out to area Hillel directors who have been working closer with students this year to make sure they felt connected. We asked them about the students, what they think next year might look like, and for those who are getting ready to apply, what they should look for when searching for a college.

Here is what Noam Bentov, executive director of Johns Hopkins Hillel, Rabbi Josh Snyder, executive director, Goucher Hillel, Lisa Bodziner, executive director, Towson Hillel and Rabbi Ari Israel, executive director, Maryland Hillel, had to say.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on college this year. What is the most pressing concern you are seeing among students?

Josh: Connection. Our students want to be connected to one another, and to our campus. We have been 100% remote for a year, with a limited return to campus coming at the end of March. Most students have adapted quite admirably, but the one thing we are all missing is being connected with others. Any way we can safely do that – zooms, social media, podcasts, discord, care packages – we are doing because we know how much it matters to students.

Noam: Mental health and wellness. This year, Hopkins Hillel created educational experiences that focus on two main areas: mental/spiritual health and inclusivity.

Lisa:  Certainly the emotional wellbeing of our students, as well as job acquisition and financial support.

What do you think next fall could look like?

Josh: We are hoping for a full return to campus in the fall, but we know it will be different from how things were prior to March 2020. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past year, it’s that we all can adapt. We will likely have to do our in-person events differently, limiting the number of people gathered in a space, serving food on an individual basis, things like that. One of the greatest assets of working with college students is unlimited creativity and irrepressible energy. I have no doubt that we and our students will figure out how to navigate the post-COVID landscape while creating more and more connections to Jewish life.

Lisa: I have no idea, I think everyone is going to want to be with people, and we are going to see increased numbers, leadership, student interest will be at an all-time high and just a true desire for students to get super engaged and have human contact and support.

Ari: A statement from University of Maryland President Daryll Pines from early February remarked that “The promise of multiple vaccines and widespread inoculation against the COVID-19 virus enables us to plan for a resumption of in-person classes for the fall 2021 semester and a return to more normal operations. Though we cannot forecast with certainty, we expect that the majority of our campus community will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine before the beginning of the fall semester. Classes designed for in-person delivery are expected to be delivered face-to-face on campus this fall semester, and staff will be expected to resume their on-campus roles.” At Maryland Hillel, it is our hope that as the weather gets warmer and vaccine roll out continues, we can make our way back to “normal” operations as safety and regulations permit!

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