Campus Corner: Illini Hillel

Celebrating the intersection of my two identities--on campus

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The author and friends attending the 2022 Champaign-Urbana Pride Fest parade.

As someone who spends a lot of time at my campus Hillel, getting to work as a program assistant for the JUF Lewis Summer Intern Program has reinvigorated my passion for the Jewish space on campus. In developing programming for the Lewis interns, I've thought a lot about the work I'm doing and how it relates to what I do on campus the rest of the year.

At University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Illini Hillel, I serve on the board of LGBTJew, our club for queer Jewish students, and I help to lead the Reform minyan in prayer, both through the kavanot (intentions) of the service and by leading the community in song with my ukulele. 

Learning and playing the songs I grew up with has given me a new, deeper connection to the melodies. Many of my friends also attend, so getting to close out a stressful week of classes with familiar faces is the perfect way for me to honor the importance of rest. Plus, LGBTJew  hosts Pride Shabbat services and dinners.

Growing up, I sometimes felt isolated in Jewish community spaces because of my queer and trans identities, so getting to be in community with other queer Jewish folks who understand what it's like to be at the intersection of those experiences feels affirming. 

On the flip side, I sometimes feel isolated in LGBTQ+ spaces as a Jewish person because of antisemitism and a general lack of understanding about Jewish culture. 

That's why I'm so excited for the Purim Drag Show, LGBTJew's biggest annual event. Getting to bring non-Jewish queer community members into the celebration of a Jewish holiday is special, as we get to share our Jewish culture and traditions with our broader campus community. 

Celebrating the intersection of these two marginalized identities gives me hope for the future of a more inclusive campus.

Avi Hessel is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is president of LGBTJew, Illini Hillel's primary initiative for a more queer and LGBTQ-inclusive religious environment on campus. Hessel is also an alum of Diller Teen Fellows and the Lewis Summer Intern Program. 

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