For many students starting at a new university, finding a place to fit in can be a challenge. At California State University, Northridge, however, Jewish students have a major community both on campus and across the street — at Hillel 818.
Serving more than 3,500 Jewish undergraduates and 650 graduate students at CSUN and more from other schools in the San Fernando Valley, Hillel 818 represents the 13th-largest Jewish student population in the United States and the largest in the state of California, according to Hillel’s 2015 College Guide, on hillel.org.
Hillel 818 Director David Katz recently transferred from the Hillel in Pittsburgh, Pa. He noted that the main difference between his former post and his new San Fernando Valley post is the sheer number of students, which gives his team greater opportunity to impact so many young people’s lives.
“It’s an exciting time to be a student here, because there is such a large Jewish population at CSUN and such an incredible opportunity to engage students in a rich and vibrant Jewish life,” Katz said. “The biggest thing we are focusing on is to engage students both on and off campus. How do we interact with students on campus in a way that we can track and measure so we can see the impact of the Hillel?”
One of the ways that Jewish life is enhanced on campus is through the Jewish Studies Program, Katz explained.
The academic aspect of Jewish life is something that builds more community for those looking to understand the culture, said Jody Myers, religious studies faculty member and director of the CSUN interdisciplinary Jewish Studies Program.
“Students are able to connect their own lives to what we do in the courses, to help them succeed,” Myers said. “We connect them to real life. You see the world — not just Los Angeles — you see a larger, global world.”
Expanding a sense of Jewish community beyond Hillel 818 — which is located in a house on Plummer Avenue, one block off the CSUN campus — to other campus experiences, including academic study, greatly enriches the students’ university experience as a whole, Katz said.
“I think the two go hand-in-hand,” he said. “Jewish Studies serves as the academic piece of campus life and is a draw for Jewish students to our campus. And Hillel is the opportunity to complement the academic learning with experiential learning and sociocultural components.”