Director hopes MU Hillel becomes destination spot for Jewish students

Monday, September 12, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Brian Mitchell, the new director for MU Hillel, chats with junior Andrew Weil and other students before Shabbat services Friday, Sept. 2 at Hillel. Mitchell has been involved in Jewish community organizations for over ten years.

COLUMBIA — The new director of MU Hillel is already using his experience to organize a trip to Israel for Jewish students to explore their heritage.

Brian Mitchell, who began his job Aug. 22, has led four Taglit-Birthright Israel trips that each took 40 young adults, ages 18 to 26, to Israel and he wants to bring that opportunity to MU Hillel. 

The 10-day trips are funded by a three-way partnership between donors, the government and taxpayers of Israel and the Jewish Federations of North America. 

About 10 students have expressed interest, even though registration doesn't open for the December trip until Sept. 14.

"There have been Missouri students who have gone on birthright trips before, but it has been a long time since there was a Mizzou one," Mitchell said.

In addition to a birthright trip, Mitchell, 34, is focused on making Hillel a destination spot on campus for Jewish students.

"I know Hillels on other campuses are the spot for Jewish students to hang out, and I would love for this to be the same," Mitchell said. "We want people to feel comfortable coming here. We’re going to spice up the TV room, which many students don’t even know we have, and we now have wireless Internet."

Mitchell has plenty of experience connecting the students. For the past six years, he was assistant director at a Jewish camp in Massachusetts, supervising 200 young adults.

Mitchell said serving as a mentor on a college campus attracted him to the new job.

Dan Edidin, past president of the Hillel Board of Directors who helped hire Mitchell, said his work with college students at the camps qualified him for the position.

"His dynamism makes him such a great fit," Edidin said. "He has a great personality, and I felt like he would be great at engaging students."

When working with college students, Mitchell said: "You have to be able to put on a different hat and be a different person. It is challenging and rewarding to be able to be someone different for each person."

The director's job also comes with administrative responsibilities. He is the landlord of the Hillel building and manages the budget with the board of directors to bring in money for the facility and programming for the year.  

"I can honestly say I have no experience in development and fundraising, but I’m going to learn," Mitchell said. "Maintenance, and facility upkeep? Very little experience. I know where I need to improve upon, but my strength is in engaging students, and being able to connect with the college aged cohort." 

Hillel is not for profit, and provides programming, religious services, leadership development and socializing for Jewish students at MU as well as Columbia and Stephens colleges.

With about 700 Jewish students at MU, Mitchell’s goal is simple: "I want to engage as many Jewish students as possible."

Kyle Tons, a junior at MU, said Mitchell "has a lot of goals for Hillel, and he definitely seems like he wants to bring new life to it."

As director, Mitchell works with the Jewish Student Organization board to plan programming for the entire year.

Mitchell has done Jewish communal work since he graduated. He grew up in St. Louis, which has a large Jewish community, and said he spent almost every waking moment at the St. Louis Jewish Community Center until he was 18.

"I’m what you would call a J-rat," Mitchell said. "I signed up for every league, for every camp and for vacation days."

Mitchell planned to rely not only on his past experiences, but also his age to propel his position as director.

Other members of Mitchell's family went to MU, but he decided to attend Indiana University where he graduated in 1999 with a degree in journalism.

"I’m the black sheep in my family," Mitchell said. "I just couldn’t go to the same school as my whole family and high school, despite the fact I wanted to study journalism."

Although he chose to not attend MU, Mitchell said he's been a Tiger fan his entire life and is excited to be back in a college town.

"Brian stuck out as a great candidate because he wanted to be in Columbia," Edidin said. "This place has always meant something to him."

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Michael Sherman September 12, 2011 | 9:16 a.m.

Seems like a nice young man who should be a real asset to the University community.

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