I stepped out of my friend’s car into the sunny but brisk Greensboro afternoon. The American Hebrew Academy parking lot was already dotted with Hillel board members. It was my first year on the board, so I’d never attended one of these retreats before. I imagined all the people around me were experienced, poised, and eloquent. Anxiety curled in my stomach.
Eyes down, I crammed myself into a crowded golf cart. By the time the bumpy ride to the dorms was over, my discomfort was gone. Some of the other students were just as shy as I was, and others were uproariously funny. They put me at ease before we even got to our rooms!
Over dinner, we shed the last of our awkwardness. We sang through the Havdalah service together, and then, our day of rest officially over, got to work.
The first session covered the concept of engagement--of prioritizing relationships over numbers of attendees. I connected with two students from UNC-Chapel Hill. Their coffee date program is absolutely ingenious, and I took pages of notes on how to implement it at my school.
The session ended around 10 p.m., but we didn’t go to sleep. Twenty or 30 of us crammed into one of the bedrooms, talking and laughing and tossing around a hacky sack printed to look like a matzoh ball. Eventually, the casual conversation turned into a debate on one of the most serious issues we faced: Should we order pizza? (Answer: yes, of course!) When I finally crashed into my borrowed bed, it was nearing 2 a.m.
I pried myself out of bed at 8 a.m. the next morning. What followed was a whirlwind of activities: craft projects, text studies and discussions about Israel and our visions for the future.
I had the opportunity to eat brunch with Rabbi Ari Naveh, who talked with me about how to better engage our members religiously. By the time we took our final group pictures, my head was swimming. We hugged goodbye and got back into our cars.
As Jaycob drove back to App and my eyelids refused to remain open, I thought back over the weekend. The Statewide Leadership Retreat was intense and informative, but more than anything, it taught me that I’m part of a network of Hillel leaders in North Carolina. We’re all here for the same reason: to support each other in making our organizations the best they can be.
Zoe Kaplan ’18 is a student at Appalachian State. She is an English major who is double minoring in gender, women’s, and sexuality studies and biology.