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Q&A: JILLIAN JUNI

From west coast to east coast; from being a Hillel's development associate to serving as its director, we are proud to feature Jillian Juni, the newly appointed Executive Director at Syracuse Hillel! Jillian reflects on her pluralistic upbringing, her professional journey at Santa Barbara Hillel and how she plans to work with Syracuse's expanded team to reach more alumni, parents and supporters across the country.​

Walk us through where you were before Hillel.

My family always celebrated Shabbat and holidays. My parents were, and continue to be, active members of a local Conservative Havurah, as well as a Reform temple (my own little pluralistic existence before I even knew the word pluralism). I attended Jewish day camp until fifth grade when I started to spend summers at URJ Eisner Camp. In high school I was an active member of our youth group and NFTY.

When I got to Rutgers University, I continued to spend summers as a counselor and was heavily involved in Jewish life at Hillel. I helped to lead Reform services and activities, was involved in tzedek events and made friends from a multitude of Jewish backgrounds. I lived pluralistically each Shabbat, spending Friday night at Reform services, Saturday morning at Conservative and then closed the day with the Orthodox community for Seudah Shlishit. Each year I got to connect with a new staff member (shout out to @Marissa Freed!) while having @Andrew Getraer and Rabbi @Esther Reed as constant supporters of our student initiatives. I traveled to Israel for the first time on Birthright Israel, studied abroad in Jerusalem and minored in Jewish studies. I even met my husband at Hillel!

After college I moved to New York and worked for Eisner year round. After my husband got a job opportunity in California in 2012,  I applied for my job with Santa Barbara Hillel. I've loved my work with Hillel and am grateful to have been able to work with such incredible colleagues for the past seven years. I look forward to where this next adventure leads me!

You started as a development associate at Santa Barbara Hillel, and over the course of seven years, eventually became its associate director. How did those different job experiences prepare you for your new role as the director at Syracuse Hillel?

I was given immense amounts of opportunity to grow at Santa Barbara Hillel. Since I had no real prior development experience, I came in at an entry level but was eager to see the ins and outs of what Hillel provided our students. As I attended events and learned more, I continued to take on additional tasks. As staff came and went, I learned how to help each new staff member be successful in their position. In 2017, our executive director went on sabbatical and the board entrusted me to be the acting director. I've done everything from managing a development plan and helping with student programs, to fixing a leaky roof!

Over the past two years, Syracuse Hillel's team has doubled and is continuing to grow. How do you hope to use this expanded support to increase student engagement and community building?

I feel strongly that the best way to reach people is by having people who can reach them. In Syracuse, our team will be dedicated to student interactions. I hope in the next year to increase both our breadth and our depth to meet students as individuals but to also create spaces where they can come together. We already have more first year students than ever signed up for our annual FreshFest and our team will work hard to keep those students engaged.  

With Jessica Lemons, our chief operations officer, on the ground in New York, we are confident we will be able to meet with more alumni, parents and other supporters to help ensure our work has the monetary support it requires. As an interim director, Jess, and her co-director Rabbi Leah Fein, worked hard to set up relationships with the university and local community in Syracuse. I look forward to maintaining key relationships as well as developing new ones to ensure that our supporters feel connected and passionate about the work we do.

After spending the past several years on the west coast, what are you looking forward to being back on the east coast?

I am looking forward to being closer to family, as well as apple cider and watching the leaves change colors in the fall!