The world’s largest Jewish campus organization, Hillel, has outposts at 550 North American colleges. Creating a digital version of the group in the face of mass coronavirus closures started almost “as a joke,” said Worcester college student Ari Hoffman. More than one week after he created it, though, the Zoom University Hillel Facebook group already exceeds 11,000 members.
“People can connect while they’re away from their Hillels at their schools," said Hoffman, a junior economics major at Clark University.
Members use the group to advertise Shabbat dinner parties on Zoom, the videoconferencing app that’s become a mainstay of pandemic life. They are organizing virtual meet-ups for specific subgroups, like gluten-free Jews and Hispanic Jews. They’re sharing then-and-now photos for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah “glow ups.” A few even started a massive game of “Jewish geography,” where students share their locations and ancestry in the comment thread.
Hoffman, the treasurer for Clark’s Hillel, got the idea after spotting similar groups on Facebook. "We all had to go home, say bye, and wait for another couple months,” he said in a phone call last week. “This was a way to keep [the Hillel community] going.”
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