Nalani Haueter, the Hillel International Springboard Fellow at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Hillel, grew accustomed to being one of the only Jewish students in school. The traditions she cherished — eating challah, playing dreidel, celebrating Havdalah — filled her with a sense of pride and responsibility.
The now 22-year-old was always eager to explain her practices to her classmates. When asked about her absence from school on Yom Kippur, she had an answer. When asked about the age-old custom of lighting a chanukiah on Chanukah, she had an answer.
But she didn’t have to explain herself to congregants at Temple Ner Shalom, the Conservative-affiliated synagogue she attended regularly with her family. Haueter admired the handful of students from Hillel of San Luis and Obispo, who used the synagogue space to host monthly Shabbat services and dinners.
“I wanted to grow up to be just like them,” Haueter said.
Inspired by their passion for Judaism, Haueter reached out to the student president of Ithaca College Hillel before she moved into her dorm room at Ithaca College.
Haueter became a regular at Ithaca College Hillel within a matter of weeks. Her college memories are dotted with Hillel experiences, including apple picking on Rosh HaShanah and serving as president of the student board.
After graduating with a degree in sociology in December 2017, she transitioned from a Jewish student to Jewish professional, working as an engagement associate at Ithaca College Hillel before accepting a position as a Springboard Fellow at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Hillel in July 2018.
During her first month on the job, Haueter was tasked with planning Illini Hillel’s Alternative Break trip, which will bring Jewish and non-Jewish students to Ethiopia this academic year. Illini Hillel is the first Hillel to organize a volunteer-service trip to Ethiopia.
Her first thought was, “Where do I start?” She had no experience organizing an international trip for college students. It was time to learn on the job.
She contacted the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Entwine, a movement for young leaders exploring international humanitarian issues, to learn the bare-bones of trip planning. She created an application on the Illini Hillel website and helped conduct interviews with more than 50 interested students. She crafted a detailed itinerary with the aid of Northern Ethiopia Tours and Waga Brok, an Ethiopian-Israeli who serves as a Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow at Illini Hillel.
Participants will spend over a week exploring the rich history of Ethiopia by learning about the Ethiopian Jewish community, volunteering with school children and trekking in the foothills of the Simien Mountains.
“Watching students develop into the leaders that I know they’re capable of being is what I love most about my job,” Haueter said. “That’s what Hillel did for me. It gave me the confidence to lead and to realize that I can help other students actualize their leadership potential.