Merri Cohen ‘89 fell in love with Syracuse University during her first college visit on a fall Friday back in 1988. Now, over 30 years since she graduated, her two eldest children attend Syracuse. Josh ‘21 is a marketing major in Whitman, and her daughter Arielle ‘22 is a communications & rhetorical studies (CRS) major in VPA. Her youngest son Jake loves Syracuse and aspires to be a part of the class of 2026. In fact, he recently had a Syracuse-themed bar mitzvah where everyone wore Syracuse gear and he made his grand entrance with Otto to the tune of the Syracuse fight song!
“I think that what makes Syracuse so special is that it’s ‘just right.’ Not too big or too small. You can study hard, but also play hard. And there is nothing like Syracuse school spirit. If you wear a Syracuse shirt, you will run into 10 alumni who will say hi and ask you what dorm you lived in. You have an instant connection to all Syracuse alumni,” said Merri. Being Orange means everything to the Cohen family. Merri made her best friends at Syracuse. She has attended all the weddings and then later the brises and bar mitzvahs of 3 of her sorority sister's sons. Josh and Arielle are on track for the same kinds of lasting friendships. They have both made connections within their Greek houses, schools, and of course, Hillel.
Since the moment Josh and Arielle first stepped foot on campus, they were destined to be student leaders. They each grew up with strong Jewish roots. “As a mom, I have always made being Jewish fun and not a chore,” said Merri. Both Josh and Arielle brough that same joyful spirit to their roles as Hillel leaders. Both Josh and Arielle served as a Peer Network Engagement Interns their sophomore years. They were each selected for their infectious personalities, vibrant Jewish identity, and intoxicating love of all things Syracuse.
“Judaism has always played a huge part in my life, so I knew that any school I went to had to have a large Jewish population. My first experience with Syracuse Hillel was participating at the Passover Seder in the Dome, which was the day of my brother’s Accepted Students program,” Arielle recalls. “Even though I was just a potential new student, I was welcomed with such loving and open arms by the entire community. Both students and staff members were eager to meet my family, and they told us about the positive impact Hillel has had on their lives. Now I am now the one jumping at the chance to give tours to potential new students to share my own amazing experience with the Hillel community.”
While there has always been a strong Jewish population at Syracuse University, Merri doesn’t recall Jewish groups being as active as they are today. Hillel had an office in the basement of Hendricks Chapel at the time, but most students today recognize the Winnick Hillel Center as the primary residence for Hillel on campus. “Organized Jewish life is SO much bigger and better at Syracuse now,” remarked Merri. “Hillel now has a huge, gorgeous building for the kids to hang out in, tons of different activities and groups, and weekly themed Shabbat dinners. There are so many more kids that attend Shabbat dinner compared to when I went to school. Plus, FreshFest is the most incredible way to start Syracuse--you instantly meet 200+ other Jewish kids who you want to meet up with every Shabbat.”
Josh recalled how surprised he was by the number of opportunities he was able to tap into through Hillel. “Honestly, I can’t even count how many times Hillel has helped me either go on trips, get me through tough situations, or just fed me. Thanks to Hillel, I’ve gone on three trips to DC, a trip to Israel, received help with rooming complications, was able to move into school early, studied in some of the best study rooms on campus, and gotten to eat so much good food. Hillel is also always actively changing and evolving for the better. The staff is incredibly hands on and supportive of the students who come by.”
Arielle has had a similar experience, finding love and support at Syracuse and Hillel. “My favorite part of Jewish life on campus is definitely the people that I have met at Hillel, especially the staff. Hillel has connected me to so many incredible people and given me a sense of belonging on campus. It gave me an immediate place to call home, and I could not be more grateful for all that this wonderful community has done for me and my family.”