A Bittersweet Goodbye to Tilly Shemer

Friday, July 7, 2023

Dear Michigan Hillel Community,

It is with bittersweet emotions that we share the news that Tilly Shemer has decided to leave her position as our Executive Director this fall to pursue an exciting opportunity as Senior Vice President of Wellspring at the Shalom Hartman Institute North America (SHI NA). In her new role, Tilly will be overseeing the suite of SHI NA initiatives that support young Jews between the ages of 15–25 as well as the professionals, educators, and institutions that serve them at college campuses, day schools, summer camps, congregational schools, and youth groups. We are eternally grateful for all that Tilly has done for Michigan Hillel over the past 15 years, and we are thrilled that Tilly’s new role will keep her close to our Hillel and to the global Hillel movement.

Over the course of her time in Ann Arbor, Tilly has strengthened our Hillel by increasing the quality and quantity of Jewish student engagement, steadfastly representing the needs of Jewish students with University leadership, and attracting and mentoring incredibly talented professionals who are deeply committed to the mission of Michigan Hillel. During her tenure, our Hillel has doubled its budget, tripled its endowment, and grown its staff to better serve the campus’ 6,500-strong Jewish community. Under Tilly’s leadership, Michigan Hillel has gained national recognition as one of the strongest Hillels in the country and continues to be a destination school for those seeking a strong and vibrant Jewish community.

We are incredibly fortunate to have a strong professional team in place who will manage this transition and ensure that our students continue to experience all of the exceptional programming, welcoming community, and diverse opportunities to connect to Jewish life and learning that Michigan Hillel offers on campus. Our transition planning is underway, and we are working closely with Hillel International to implement an interim-management plan and open a national search for our next Executive Director. I will share an update about this coming year’s leadership and our search process later this summer. In the meantime, if you have any immediate questions, please feel free to contact me at michiganhillelchair@gmail.com.

We are so proud of all Tilly has accomplished and look forward to celebrating her continued contributions to the Jewish community. While this is a period of transition, I am confident that Michigan Hillel will continue to thrive. Tilly wanted to share a message with our community which is included below.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, and Go Blue!


Abbey Frank

Chair, Michigan Hillel Board of Trustees

A Note from Tilly …

Dear Friends,

It feels so bittersweet to share the news with you that I will be leaving the University of Michigan Hillel this fall to take on an exciting new role at the Shalom Hartman Institute North America as Senior Vice President of Wellspring.

For the past 20 years (15 at the University of Michigan), Hillel has been my professional home in Toronto and Ann Arbor. I have grown in immeasurable ways and am grateful for all the opportunities this Hillel career has offered to me. I feel deeply honored to have been entrusted with this work and to have had the opportunity to serve this community as Executive Director of University of Michigan Hillel.

I inherited a strong and vibrant Hillel from Michael Brooks and am so proud of all that our Hillel has continued to accomplish. We expanded our outreach to students through engagement initiatives like jNET, HillelConnect, FreshConnect, Bayit, and staff engagement positions. We added a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow to bring Israel to students and staff, and later added an Israel Immersive Experience Coordinator (IACT) to bring more of our students to Israel. We’ve invested in our “Leaders and Best” through our Leadership Incubator, Campus Leaders Trip, and Lynda Giles Leadership Fellowship. We busted open the model of how we do Shabbat at Hillel by serving more students at home through ShabUM and our Host@Home program. We showed our community we were there for them throughout COVID by transitioning to serving our students in their homes and in safe and meaningful ways. And we continued to expand, transition, and create new groups to help students find their home, community, and identity through Hillel.

When times were challenging on campus, we sought opportunities to advance leadership, deepen engagement, build relationships, and empower student voices. Our commitment to pluralism and diversity has remained steadfast through times of conflict and criticism. This commitment ensured we continued to offer three vibrant, student-led Friday night services, dozens of student groups to serve different interests and identities, and a spectrum of Israel groups that hold affiliations with both AIPAC and JStreet U. In recent years, this commitment to pluralism has persisted despite it feeling more challenging, more critical, and more countercultural to societal trends of seeking out and sticking to those who share the same views and isolating from others. Our Hillel model continues to encourage, enrich, and foster both the small-group interests and the larger communal connections, encouraging dialogue and cross-group collaboration, most notably through our recent Uncommon Connections initiative in Harlene Appleman’s (z”l) memory. This unwavering commitment to our goals and values is something that I’ll always feel proud of.

Although my role has been to serve the University of Michigan Jewish community, I feel grateful to have been a part of a global movement that invests not only in student leadership and engagement but in the professional development of its staff. I’ve been enriched by numerous opportunities through Hillel International. I have been mentored by and had the joy of mentoring colleagues and early entry professionals that have become friends over the years. There is a special understanding among Hillel directors. The empathy, care, and commitment we have for one another is unparalleled in the professional world. Hillel professionals are “my people”, which is why I’m grateful to still remain connected to Hillel in my new role.

As the Senior VP of Wellspring, I will have the opportunity to oversee the suite of initiatives that support young Jews between the ages of 15–25, as well as the professionals, educators, and institutions that serve them at college campuses, day schools, summer camps, congregational schools, and youth groups. To be able to continue to support my Hillel colleagues on issues related to relationship with Israel, pluralism, and Jewish peoplehood and identity means the world to me.

When I first arrived in Ann Arbor in 2008, Saturday football was a foreign experience. I had no idea what an Ann Arbor chipati was and never owned a college t-shirt of any of the schools I had attended. I quickly learned how special the University of Michigan was beyond the symbols. The pride that our alumni hold and the strength of their relationships to UM have made my work with alumni, donors, parents, and board members such a pleasure because of the degree to which everyone is invested in this institution that we love. However, “I have learned the most from my students” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers), who have taught me so much about Michigan culture, but also about their needs, their values, and their relationship to community, Israel, and the critical issues of the day. Michigan students and alumni are a unique breed. There’s a reason why UM was recently ranked highest among universities in terms of “cultiness”. There is a culture around the strength of community and the leadership of this University that is the maize and blue water in which we swim in Ann Arbor…and I’ll proudly and forever Go Blue.

Every spring, we host an event for graduating seniors. Given the season, I connect their leaving to the tradition of eating the Hillel sandwich of charoset and maror at the Passover seder, where we experience the bitter and the sweet together. The bitterness somehow amplifies the sweetness, and the sweetness amplifies the bitterness. Now, I am experiencing what so many of our alumni experienced before me – the sadness of leaving a place as special to me as the University of Michigan and our Michigan Hillel family, paired with the sweetness of my many experiences here, each amplified by the other.

Thank you all for giving me so many sweet memories to cherish forever.

With gratitude,