The spring issue of Hillel College Guide listed the universities with the largest Jewish student populations. Vying for the top of the list, with such expected contenders as the University of Florida, Rutgers University, New York University and the University of Maryland, is a relative newcomer: the University of Central Florida, founded in Orlando in 1963.
Based on the estimates submitted by campus Hillel offices, Central Florida had 6,000 Jewish students last year, about the same as NYU, just behind Florida (6,500) and Rutgers (6,400), and just ahead of Maryland (5,800). By comparison, the University of Georgia had an estimated 1,400 Jewish students, and Emory University had 1,300.
“It’s not unusual for Atlanta kids to go to Florida for college,” said Sam Friedman, UCF Hillel’s assistant director. “Right now most of them are still going to Florida and Florida State, but with the opportunities at UCF for Jewish life on campus, we’re becoming a more attractive option.”
Friedman, along with the UCF Hillel’s engagement associate, Danielle McKinstry, made a trip to Atlanta in late July with the primary goal of meeting students who would be arriving at UCF in a few weeks to ease their transition. The visit also aimed to make more Atlanta-area students aware of the school as a strong Jewish option.
Their journey through Georgia was all-encompassing, with stops at Camps Ramah Darom and Coleman and at close to a dozen synagogues.
“It’s not enough for us to wait for students to come to us,” Friedman said. “It’s really about us making ourselves available to the students.”
McKinstry said the visit was about making students feel comfortable reaching out to Hillel when they get to campus. An active participant in Hillel when she attended the University of Connecticut, she wants to help students get involved.
“We want people to know who we are,” Friedman said. “We want the Atlanta Jewish community to know we’re available. We are not a synagogue; we’re your Jewish home on campus.”
McKinstry said that aside from the obvious opportunities for Jewish life, there are some perks to reaching out to a school’s Hillel. “I tell new students to go to your Hillel and find the engagement associate because we will take you out for a free cup of coffee.”