By Dave Sorter
Not many college Hillel organizations span a territory as wide as the new Hillels of North Texas.
Then again, not many Hillels encompass four different institutions of higher learning.
Hillels of North Texas combines the existing organizations at the University of North Texas in Denton — which has also included Jewish students at the nearby Texas Woman’s University — and at the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson, along with the new program at Collin College, the community college with campuses in Plano, Frisco and McKinney.
“It makes it possible for all the campuses to have a full-time director,” said Rebecca Gerbert, director of Hillels of North Texas, who will serve as the professional leader of all the programs. “Collin College is just getting started, and UTD has never had a full-time director.”
All three schools have a significant Jewish student population — and Collin College president Cary Israel is a member of Chabad of Plano/Collin County — but Gerbert believes it’s a good idea to mix the local Jewish community.
“We have students meeting at other campuses and creating bonds throughout the North Texas area,” said Gerbert, who began her new job June 1 after serving as a graduate assistant in the UNT dean’s office.
Program director Lindsey Rubin is the only other staff member of the combined organization.
The genesis of the combined organization came from Helen Waldman, co-president of the Hillels of North Texas board.
“Somebody thought it would be good to have a full-time person at UT-Dallas,” Gerbert said. “They thought the students at UTD needed a full-time person to steer them in the right direction. Helen Waldman thought (combining the Hillels) was a good idea. It just makes sense to have these students together.”
Though Gerbert and Rubin are based in Denton, they will serve as directors of all four schools’ Hillels. She added she hopes to spend two days per week at UNT and UTD, with the fifth day at Collin College.
The UNT-TWU branch had about 30 student Hillel members last school year, while UTD had seven. Gerbert hopes to more than double the total.
“The goal is to have 50 at both by the end of the school term,” she said, not even factoring in Collin College’s potential contribution.
Each school has its own Hillel chapter, and each campus will have its own programming, Gerbert said. However, students at one institution are invited to all Hillel events at the other participating colleges, and plans are being made to have one or two joint events each month.
UNT, TWU and UTD have a good balance between students who live on campus and those who commute, while Collin College is primarily a commuter school.
“It’s really important for Jewish students to have a place to go when they’re not at home,” said Gerbert, who did her undergraduate work at the Southern Baptist Wingate University in North Carolina. “We want to make sure we’re meeting the needs of all students.”
To that end, Hillels of North Texas has no expectations of expansion to other campuses. Hillel of Dallas covers Southern Methodist University, primarily, along with UT-Arlington and the campuses of the Dallas County Community College District. UTD also has had ties with Hillel of Dallas.
Also, Texas Christian University in Fort Worth has an active Hillel.
As the school year approaches, Gerbert is eager to get things started with Hillels of North Texas.
“I’m just really excited,” she said, “to see where Hillels of North Texas goes.”