JOIN Internship Reflections on my time with Michigan Hillel

JOIN Internship Reflections on my time with Michigan Hillel

By Margo Dickstein (‘21) of Farmington Hills, MI

When I was trying to figure out what I would do the summer after my freshman year at the University of Michigan, I did not immediately think of the JOIN Internship (Jeanette and Oscar Cook Jewish Occupational Internship Program). As a Political Science and International Studies major, I assumed I would be getting an internship somewhere like the United Nations, AIPAC, or one of the many political races gearing up for the November Midterms. I assumed, like all of the leadership opportunities and jobs I had applied for in high school, I would easily be able to get a prestigious internship in my field of study. By January however, reality was right there staring me in the face. Everyone was looking for students with experience – those who could write well, manage large amounts of data, take initiative, and have think-outside-of-the-box skills. I, with my whopping one year of college under my belt, seemed to lack those at first resume glance. I had resigned myself to a summer of babysitting, tutoring, or working at a clothing store. Then, one email changed everything.The February Mich-Mash, Michigan Hillel’s weekly email run-down of programs and opportunities coming up around Ann Arbor and beyond. It was there that I was introduced to JOIN — and off to an amazing summer with Hillel, its staff, and lots of connection with the Class of 2022’s incoming students!

The JOIN program is an eight-week internship coordinated by JVS of Metro Detroit. Started and partially funded by the Cook family, the JOIN program seeks to engage college-aged Jewish students with Metro Detroit Jewish communal organizations in the hopes that their experience will empower future leaders of the area’s Jewish community. The program also educates the participants on the wide variety and diversity of programming and services offered within the Jewish community. A special component of JOIN, each Friday is utilized as a seminar day, in which participants travel to different agencies within the area to learn about the services they provide, what it takes to maintain those services, and how they strive to achieve their missions. To me, this was one of the most meaningful parts of the program. I have grown up in the Metro Detroit Jewish community all of my life. I went to Hebrew school at a local synagogue, worked as a Madrichia at my Hebrew school, and served as president of my local BBYO chapter. While I thought I was well versed in what it meant to live in what local teens commonly call “the bubble”, I never knew about the various agencies such as JFS, JVS, and Kadima, that were offering essential services and care to members of the community that I had been a part of my whole life. Getting to learn about these agencies and the support they require from the community in order to keep them going, deeply affected and inspired me to work hard so that I am able to give back to the community that provided so much not only to me, but to countless others. 

This spark that I got from the weekly seminars pushed me to do the best that I could with my internship at Michigan Hillel. It made my hour and a half commute each day worth it. Since starting school at the University of Michigan, my Jewish community has not changed, but grown, to include both the Detroit and Ann Arbor area. Michigan Hillel became my home away from home. I joined multiple Hillel-supported groups, attended their weekly free Shabbat dinners, and gained close relationships to staff. Through the JOIN internship program, I have gotten to get to know Michigan Hillel from a completely different angle than other student leaders have. I saw the long hours the staff put into planning great programs — that I had no idea took so much effort. They work so hard to welcome each incoming student and their family, plan immersive experiences like their new Overnight Retreat, Welcome to Campus Dinners, Meet & Greets across the country, and their Mensch mentorship program. Not to mention all the planning they put into preparing for 1,500+ students to join them for the High Holidays! Plus they take the time to thank each and every one of Hillels generous donors with a personal thank you note. It was amazing to be an active part of the care and consideration staff puts into ensuring each and every aspect of Hillel programming is inclusive, accessible, and meaningful to students. 

As an intern at Hillel, I got to play an active role in welcoming UofM’s 1,000 new incoming Jewish students into our community, making personal calls, sending text invites, and ensuring we have all the right info in our database so we can continue to communicate throughout the year. I also got a hands-on role in planning the logistics for their first-year students Overnight Retreat, taking place at Camp Tamarack. The biggest highlight though of my work at Hillel was joining a meeting at the Federation of Metropolitan Detroit in which Hillel staff shared great updates on all that’s going on and new with JFMD senior staff. I got to not only listen, but participate too, in conversations about ways in which staff are working to grow relationship between the Federation and Hillel. It was amazing to hear how passionate the Federation is in providing support for Michigan Hillel and continuing to help them open new doors. 

The JOIN internship program has opened my eyes to what it means to be a part of the Metro Detroit Jewish community, as well as what it takes to create a meaningful Jewish space for students. While I don’t know where my career will take me after college, I know that the Detroit Jewish community and Michigan Hillel will always be there for me, and in return, I will always be there for them. 

Go Blue!