Elon University Hillel community featured in Shalom Greensboro Magazine

An article, titled "Hillel Heroes: Making College Feel Like Home," features Elon Hillel’s Jewish Educator Boaz-Avraham Katz and Zoe Kurtz ’22 was originally published in Shalom Greensboro, the Greensboro Jewish Federation’s magazine.

The Hillel community at Elon University were featured in the cover story for the March/April 2022 edition of “Shalom Greensboro,” the Greensboro Jewish Federation’s magazine.

The entire issue of the Shalom Greensboro magazine can be found here. Below is the full text of the article, written by Hillary Zaken, assistant director of Jewish Life at Elon University:

“Every time I walk through Hillel’s doors I feel like I am at home,” said Zoe Kurtz ’22, a senior at Elon University from Winston-Salem, NC. “I feel incredibly supported at Hillel, the staff are always there for me.”

Jewish students throughout the world find community, meaning, and leadership opportunities through their campus Hillel. They learn to ask important questions about their faith, deepen their connection to their Judaism, and build relationships with friends and mentors that last a lifetime.

These talented and passionate mentors dedicate their careers to their students by creating an on-campus home, advocating and supporting, listening and offering advice on life. They welcome them into the local Jewish community, build networks, provide academic support, assist with career search, and prepare them for life after college.

For Zoe Kurtz, that mentor is Boaz Avraham-Katz, the Jewish Educator at Elon Hillel, who has been an essential part of her college experience. Avraham-Katz is more than just a teacher or an advisor; he walks alongside his students on their Jewish journeys.

“There are truly no words to describe the impact Boaz has had on me,” shared Zoe. “I can’t imagine my Elon experience without him in it, and I know he will be someone in my life forever. Boaz doesn’t just want to teach his students, he wants to know his students, to learn who they are. Boaz has been there for me in good times and in bad, shining a light on me, helping me find my Jewish identity, and always making me feel cared for.”

Four campuses in the Triad, Elon University, High Point University, Wake Forest University and UNCG each have a vibrant Hillel staffed by dedicated and talented Jewish professionals. These campuses are all affiliated with Hillel International, the world’s largest Jewish student organization, which has communities at more than 550 colleges and universities.

Boaz Avraham-Katz, Gail Bretan, Vicki Cathcart, Amy Epstein, Amit Melchior, Ginny Vellani, and Hillary Zaken, who all live in Greensboro, are focused on creating joyful Jewish experiences for students on their campuses, and their creative mentorship has had a lasting impact on the Jewish students who attend colleges in the Triad.

Boaz Avraham-Katz is a career Jewish educator who has taught at B’nai Shalom Day School, worked at Beth David synagogue and Temple Emanuel, and tutored bar and bat mitzvah students from the entire Triad region. Now Avraham- Katz is the Jewish Educator at Elon University, a role he describes as his dream job.

“I have had the chance to work with all the ages, and I feel like I have the most important job now,” he shares. “At Hillel, we have the last opportunity to send students off with a basket of Jewish values, something they can hold on to and take with them for their entire lives. Our work is beyond the typical Jewish education. It is about reaching out my hand, taking theirs, and walking with them for a little bit, whatever that means for each student.”

Avraham-Katz is always texting his students to check in, liking and commenting on their social media (yes, he knows what TikTok is, and uses it), and finding opportunities to cook the foods they love. He can often be found in the homey kitchen at Elon’s Sklut Hillel Center, making a large pot of matzah ball soup or a plate of homemade hummus. He encourages students to gather over food and open their minds and hearts.

For Zoe, that care (and the food) is a large part of what makes Hillel her home away from home: “Among my favorite Hillel memories are cooking with Boaz in the Hillel house, and having great conversations doing it! He even invited us to his house, where he cooked us a delicious dinner.”

For Amy Epstein, Jewish Life Coordinator and Hillel Director at High Point University, mentorship is also reciprocal: “For me, being a good mentor includes integrity, being a champion, leading by example and being available to listen. I have mentored a student and not realized the impact that it had on them. Truly, I think we mentored each other. Championing students and being in their corner is one of my most favorite parts of being a Hillel Director. You never know where they are going to go.”

NC Hillel’s Vicki Cathcart, Assistant Director of the NC Link program, concurs. She also believes that a key part of mentorship is connecting students to opportunities in Greensboro’s local community: “As a commuter student, Samantha Brody spent countless hours in between classes in the UNC Greensboro Hillel lounge. We had wonderful conversations about being Jewish in the South, Disney, her love of books, and so much more. When Samantha wanted to be more involved in the local Jewish community, I connected her to Beth David Synagogue, where she teaches Hebrew School, and she also works at both B’nai Shalom Day School and Temple Emanuel.”

While a creative and fun event, or perhaps the lure of a quiet place to study with free snacks can bring a student through the door of their campus Hillel, what makes them stay are the friends they make and the Hillel staff with the open doors and the listening ears.

These Hillel pros not only help students. Jewish parents can also rest assured that a caring adult is always there for their students, walking alongside them on their Jewish journeys, helping them find their passions, and supporting their students every step of the way.

Perhaps Elon senior Zoe Kurtz said it best: “Hillel has had a huge part in helping me find my Jewish identity. I truly am so thankful and appreciative for all my Hillel mentors, and would not be the person I am today without their support. They challenge me when I need to be challenged, they celebrate with me, and they are the shoulder to lean on when I need one. Hillel is where I found the people I can always count on.”