Some might call Seth Yoskowitz cheap labor. An engineering senior at Stanford University, he answers phones, solicits funders and staffs events for less than $10 an hour.
But Rabbi Ari Cartun calls him — and the other eight Hillel interns — the face of Stanford University's Hillel.
"When people walk in, [Seth and other] interns greet them. They tell them what Jewish life at Stanford is really about," said Cartun, who recently retired as director of Stanford's Hillel.
In an effort to more effectively staff the office, reach out to students and train the next generation of Jewish communal workers, Cartun developed Stanford's Hillel internship program four years ago.
This fall eight other Hillels in the Northern California region will reap similar benefits by implementing intern programs of their own. Using Cartun's plan as a model, the Northern California Hillel Council will employ 14 Jewish student leaders as interns at Chico State, Sacramento State, San Francisco Urban Services (a centralized office serving S.F. State, City College and University of San Francisco), U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, U.C. Santa Cruz, San Jose State, Stanford University and the Northern California Hillel Council.
The two-year pilot is being funded by a $60,000 grant from the Koret Foundation.
"It's a mechanism we hope will promote activity and outreach on the various campuses of Northern California," said Sandy Edwards, Koret senior programs officer.
The dollars will pay interns' stipend ($8 an hour) and finance monthly education meetings as well as subsidize attendance at the National Hillel Leaders Assembly, Koret Interns Shabbaton and spring leadership retreat.
It also allows the Northern California Hillel Council to function as a regional clearinghouse. Each campus will function somewhat autonomously with two or three interns per site.
Stanford will continue to separately fund additional interns.
"This is a real boon to people in the [Jewish communal] field in need of some assistance. They can stretch their programs and their dollars to meet more needs," said Jerry Isaak-Shapiro, executive director of the Northern California Hillel Council.
Interns will work approximately 10 hours a week for 30 weeks and will be supervised on-site by Hillel professionals. They will be chosen by each campus' Hillel and their duties will vary according to need.
All interns will discuss problems, projects and progress as they arise via e-mail.
"This is not an internship program in a vacuum," Isaak-Shapiro said.
Besides aiding campus Hillels in dire need of additional staff — at Chico State, for instance, one or two staffers reach out to several thousand students — the program affords interns from all over the region a chance to work together as a team. Through the Internet and at monthly meetings, they will air such topics as marketing Israel, Jewish demographics, politics, holidays and reasons for being a Jew.
Plus, Yoskowitz added, students lend an accessible, youthful quality to the Hillel organization.
"It's important, when you walk into an office or program, that it is `cool.' Part of that is having students excited about it and being there," Yoskowitz said. Interns are "the first line of communication in the office and at programs."
Another objective of the intern program, Cartun added, is to "raise the next generation of leadership."
For instance, this fall Yoskowitz will return for his third year in the internship program. While he doesn't plan on changing his major from engineering to Jewish studies or going to work professionally for a Jewish agency, "I know I'll always be active in the Jewish community," he said.
"I've learned a great deal," Yoskowitz added. "I have a different way of looking at my Jewish involvement, having done the grunt work."
The only downside is that "interns disappear during finals," Cartun said. "You get so used to them. You need them and then they're gone.
"But what's nice is when they come back after graduation to visit — the phone rings and they pick it up. They know what to do."