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Syracuse Hillel Hosts Record-Breaking Orientation Program for Incoming Jewish Students
In Syracuse University’s largest pre-orientation program, incoming students do more than learn about campus safety and where the dining halls are located. These new students also form lifelong friendships, braid challah and learn about the vibrant Jewish community at Syracuse University.
More than 190 incoming Jewish students and their families participated in this year’s “FreshFest,” the pre-orientation program organized by Syracuse Hillel. The 2019 cohort marked the highest number of participating students in the history of Freshfest, welcoming more students into the Hillel community.
“FreshFest is a unique opportunity for us to bring together Jewish first-year students as they embark on their journey to college,” says Jillian Juni, executive director of Syracuse Hillel. “It is a space in which we can open our arms and welcome them to their home away from home.”
FreshFest 2019 ran Aug. 19-21, allowing students to move into residence halls early and get acclimated to campus before the designated beginning of Syracuse Welcome. Over the course of the program, students take tours of campus, hear from campus leaders and learn details about Greek Life and study abroad opportunities.
At its core, FreshFest is about making friends and building community. Incoming students are paired with upperclassmen “mentors” that guide them through the week and often continue to give them advice throughout the rest of the year.
Sophie Baron ’22 is one of this year’s mentors helping to guide the incoming students around campus, residence halls and home colleges. She says participating in FreshFest helped her to build a network of peers and upperclassmen that has supported her throughout her journey at SU.
“I really want incoming students to know that they always have a safe spot and people to lean on at Hillel,” Baron says. “I know for me it was really comforting to know I always had people to go to if I needed something.”
Students also help to design the program, with support from Syracuse Hillel staff. Ariel Hylton ’20 and Alexis Boehnlein ’20 were the co-chairs of FreshFest 2019 and in charge of developing numerous on- and off-campus activities, including icebreakers and an evening at the New York State Fair.
Hylton, who attended FreshFest as an incoming student three years ago, says she felt compelled to help this year to give back to the program that was so welcoming and exciting for her. She says she met some of her best friends during FreshFest, and felt like she had found a home on campus.
“FreshFest is important for Hillel and the SU Jewish community because it brings freshmen with a common background together,” Hylton says. “The students that take their first steps on campus through FreshFest can sense the school spirit and love that each and every student has for Syracuse University.”
Over the course of three days, the participating students get to know SU, Hillel, and most importantly, each other. As their journey at Syracuse University continues, these students will continue to form bonds in classes, residence halls and at Hillel events. “FreshFest gives students a foundation to grow upon,” Juni says, “And the knowledge that they will always have the support of the vibrant SU Jewish community.”
“I’m so proud to be able to call Syracuse Hillel my Hillel,” Hylton says. “I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way!”