Dan’s Farewell to FSU Hillel

  • A Farewell to FSU Hillel

FSU Hillel is now halfway through its 8th decade at Florida State University. Through each era and student and staff transition, we have impacted the lives of the entire Florida State and Tallahassee community. Since I joined FSU Hillel in 2018, our team has helped navigate the meaning of Kehilla (sacred community) for more than 16,000 Jewish Noles (4,000 each year!). Through Passover seders, cohort learning, and many more activities, your support made all of these things possible.


It’s true that in the past two years students like Jillian have lost out on so much. But in this season of renewal, there is excitement in the air. I am inspired and uplifted by the resiliency of our students and by their optimism for the future. This spring, there is so much to celebrate:


  • With creativity, we offered meals for all Jewish holidays for students to celebrate on their own terms. As many as 75+ students became hosts which allowed Jewish Noles to step into leadership roles amongst their closest peers. Hosts received training on prayers and hosting from the FSU Hillel team.

  • Challahassee (formerly known as Challah for Hunger) bridges the gap between education and food insecurity by baking over 180 challahs and raising over $1100.

  • Our student life team launched Panhellenic – a partnership between Hillel and the greek community which resulted in 170 attendees at the kick-off event and an understanding of diversity education.


  • Not one but two FSU Hillel busses made it to Israel on #Birthright. Through their ten-day journeys, over 50 Noles explored Israel and learned the meaning of mishpocha (family), and are excited for the days in which they reunited with peers to recall their shared experiences.  

Because of you, I know I am leaving FSU Hillel as we are on the rise – to be stronger, larger, and better than ever. Our incoming staff collectively have years of experience in programming, social action, Israel education and fundraising – you’ll be introduced to them soon!


I am incredibly grateful for the generosity you’ve shown in the past. Your support makes a difference or our current Noles – and the many more FSU Hillel will impact in the future.


With gratitude,

Dan Leshem, Executive Director


Support FSU Hillel During Hillel Global Giving Week


We are well underway of our third annual Hillel Global Giving Week. We are closing in on our $10,000 goal and we couldn’t do it without you.

After an incredible year of serving 300+ students each holiday and a FULL FSU Birthright Israel bus leaving early next week, we are looking for your support – whether you are able to make a gift or share with your networks. To see our donor roll and to make a gift, visit Thank you.

Since 2018, FSU Hillel has seen tremendous growth. During our pre-pandemic era, we would have never imagined the growth we have seen during the most challenging two years that were filled with remote programs and the void of not gathering together in Tallahassee. From then, our students have shined a light on the need for a thriving Hillel. With this incredible momentum comes an increase in the number of students we serve and our offerings to them. FSU Hillel has found our specialty in building micro-communities amongst Jewish students and discovering ways to make Judaism accessible to all.  

Make a gift today during Hillel Global Giving Week and it will go 2x as far!


Passover 2022

What made this night different from all other nights? (Passover '22)

On Friday, the first night of Passover, more than 350+ Noles gathered around tables across campus to share the Passover story and surpassing all expectations. 

For some students this was their first Seder experience ever; for others this was a much-needed reminder of home. 

We also prepared more than 40 hosts with best practices for hosting and fascilitating, including Haggadahs and delicious food, and the opportunity to empower students to create their own meaningful Jewish experiences.

All together, Jewish Noles were able to participate in a free Seder because of FSU Hillel and the JSU (Jewish Student Union). This wouldn’t be possible without the support of individual donors like you – Todah Rabah!


Changes Coming to FSU Hillel

Change is coming to FSU Hillel: our Director of Jewish Student Life, Kal Marcus, is leaving after three years of incredible service to the Jewish students of our community. Kal joined us in June 2019 as a Springboard Fellow specializing in Jewish Learning and in 2021 advanced to the position of Director of Jewish Student Life. In that time, he has weathered a pandemic, excelled in his role, grown enormously as a professional, and (nearly) completed a Master’s Degree in Jewish Non-Profit Management from Hebrew Union College. Toward the end of this semester, he is moving on to exciting new challenges and opportunities with Evolve Giving Group as an Associate Consultant.

Kal joined our team at a transformative moment, as we quadrupled our staff, updated our programming and operations, reconfigured our physical space, worked to fundamentally shift our organizational culture, and dramatically increased both fundraising and student engagement. During that time, he has achieved remarkable results at FSU Hillel, including:

  • Overhauling student leadership: growing from 8 to over 40 leaders and interns in three years; guiding a culture shift toward excellence, inclusivity, and service; and developing a clear plan for student leadership development and advancement
  • Strategic outreach: by focusing on sub-sections of campus life, such as Freshmen engagement and Greek Life outreach, Kal helped us achieve unprecedented gains in both breadth and depth of student engagement
  • Building Jewish educational initiatives: Kal launched, recruited for, and co-taught our first-ever Jewish Learning Fellowships. FSU Hillel has now offered more than a dozen unique cohort experiences and engaged more than 100 students in this high-impact program that provides in-depth Jewish education, fosters friendships, and serves as a pipeline for cultivating student leaders.
  • Pivoting during the pandemic: When the pandemic hit after only 9 months on the job, Kal guided our student leaders to shift seamlessly to online programming. His team began with programming exclusively on Zoom, then shifted to hybrid and outdoor events, and ultimately innovated a dispersed small-group student-hosted event model that is both in-person and COVID-safe. Despite essentially closing the Hillel building for two years, we have nonetheless hosted our biggest-ever events, such as Rosh Hashanah for 360 students in Fall 2021. 
  • Skyrocketing engagement: Kal led our team in doubling engagement even during COVID. This rate of growth in on-campus engagement is rarely achieved in any circumstance – much less during a pandemic, when programming was almost entirely online and and/or outside the Hillel building.  

Kal’s achievements are many, but his persona is just as remarkable. If you’ve met him, you might know his easy charisma, his unbeatable Jewish geography network, and his quick wit. He is a sharp observer of human behavior and unparalleled at remembering not only the faces, but also the names, connections, backgrounds, talents and hobbies of almost everyone he meets. “It’s a gift and a curse,” he is known to say with a sly grin, when recalling yet another precise detail from memory. 

Although Kal is leaving FSU Hillel, the structure, strategy, and changes he has affected will remain. We are well-positioned to continue to grow and strengthen our student leadership, to maintain and grow engagement, and to deepen our reputation as a place that is truly by students, for students. Our core staff will remain, and we are excited to hire excellent new team members in the coming months – with Kal on the hiring committee! 

In English, the word is “bittersweet;” in Hebrew, mar u’matok. The bitterness of Kal’s departure will be felt strongly across the FSU Jewish community; however, we will hold on to the sweetness of our memories with him and of our excitement at seeing all that he – and we – will accomplish in the future. We truly wish him all the best.


The Birthright Trip That Was Meant to Be

B’shert is the only word for our Winter 2021 trip Birthright trip to Israel. Hours after take-off from Miami to Tel Aviv, Israel reinstated their travel ban for all Birthright buses. This meant we were one of only three Hillel Birthright buses that made it to Israel this winter!

After combining with University of Miami Hillel, we brought 27 Jewish students together to make new friends, explore connections to Israel, and delve deeper into their Jewish identities.

When last-minute changes to COVID protocol meant quarantining on arrival, we lightened the mood with nostalgic summer camp activities and ice-breakers at our Kibbutz near the Golan Heights. We created a strong bond that only grew throughout our trip.

We were joined by nine Israeli soldiers in Safed amidst the celebration of a Bar Mitzvah in the street. Israeli and American participants explored the differences between their Holocaust education, Shabbat observances, and early career exploration. Our conversations reflected Hillel’s pluralistic approach to Judaism, and led many to the conclusion that there is no such thing as “not Jewish enough.”

While in Jerusalem, we visited the Kotel (Western Wall) and brought in Shabbat together. Before entering the Kotel, students reflected upon the blessings they wished to leave in the cracks of the Wall while others wrote letters-to-self to be read at the school year’s end so that in future they could look back on this pivotal moment see the progress they had made. As Shabbat marked the halfway point of our trip, students had the opportunity to become a B’Nai Mitzvah and/or join the Hebrew naming ceremonies, further sanctifying their personal growth and symbolizing their connection to the Jewish homeland.

Our Birthright Israel experience felt a lot like the story at Masada. The story of resistance reminded us all that despite the odds, FSU Hillel’s trip to Israel was b’sheret. Posing proudly for photos with the Israeli flag atop that ancient fortress overlooking the vast Dead Sea, I was awed by the symbolic resonance with all that our students overcame to make this trip happen.

Now back at FSU, our students are working on initiatives that will welcome Israeli food, culture, and people (virtually) to our Hillel and the FSU community. We will reunite to reflect on our time together and remember the unlikely triumph of making it to Israel this Winter. Intellect, compassion, and ahavat am (eternal love) for Israel shine brightly in all of our participants, and I am confident that each one will be vital to cultivating and creating the Jewish future at FSU and beyond.

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Update: KKK Flier Incident at FSU Hillel

This week a hand-written flier was taped to a light post adjacent to our building that announced an upcoming “KKK meeting” and gave a local phone number. Several Jewish sorority sisters found the sign and were understandably horrified. They sent us a picture of the flier and then destroyed it.

We are saddened and disturbed by this incident and immediately reported it through FSU’s harassment reporting tool (, shared the image with Florida ADL and Hillel International’s security office and met FSU campus PD at the building. Here is what we learned right away that night:

  1.  The flier by our building was not the only offensive message posted around campus and especially in CollegeTown – the social night life hub near campus;
  2. Other fliers targeted other minority ethnic identity groups and women

We have subsequently been in close communication with our student community, campus leadership, and concerned Jewish parents, communities and stakeholders around the country.

The FSU police have complete their preliminary investigation, but some key facts of the case seem still to be unclear. What we do know is that there is no upcoming KKK meeting or any credible threat to student safety or FSU Hillel. We are in close contact with campus police and other authorities and are gratified that this is being taken seriously. It appears that those responsible for this incident are local teenagers with no connection to FSU. Further, we understand that the phone number on the fliers belongs to a local teenager – a child – with no involvement and who is bewildered at his number being used/targeted.

Unfortunately, after images of the flyer were shared to social media and immediately went viral a local Tallahassee teenager was inundated with threats and harassing messages. By posting and sharing the image without blurring the phone number, countless social media accounts ended up furthering the harassment intended by the students who posted the flier in the first place—giving it much greater distribution and attention than the physical flier ever would have garnered on its own.

Regardless of the identity or the intent of those who posted the flier, the incident raises several larger questions for our community:

  1. Was the only flier mentioning the KKK posted near our building intentionally because we are a Jewish institution? If so, and even if the primary intent was to harass the phone owner with angry responses, it was also clearly a hateful act designed to upset and threaten campus Jews.
    a. Or was it a coincidence, meaning that the poster either was unaware of the history of KKK violence targeting Jews or ignorant of the fact that the Magen David on our outside wall meant that we are a Jewish institution?
  2. How do we acknowledge the terror that the KKK invokes for many members of our community, who may have seen this sign on campus or social media? As distressed as we are that this sign was placed near Hillel, its existence at all is a potential terrifying event for any BIPOC member of our community. No matter where the sign was placed, it invokes the horrific history of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists in America. This is not ancient history – we need only to look to recent events such as the rally in Charlottesville to acknowledge that white supremacy poses a clear and present danger to all those of us who are despised by bigots.
  3. Even if this was a hoax, why do so many supposedly “random” acts of vandalism target Jews (eg. The carving of swastikas on walls and bathroom stalls)?
  4. How do we support and comfort our Jewish student community that faced this act on the eve of Simchat Torah, in a trying COVID-infused year, at the end of a very meaningful but exhausting first month of school and High Holiday period?
  5. How do we as a Jewish community respond meaningfully to this incident to both comfort the Jewish student community and build bridges of understanding and allyship with others who were harmed, and even with the responsible parties themselves?
  6. Because those responsible are local teenagers unconnected to FSU, this also highlights the connection of our seemingly insular campus to the broader community around us. What does this mean for our connection to Tallahassee, its history, and its future?

In any case, we are so grateful for and gratified by the support of our allies, and we extend the same support to all who have been hurt by this event.

Remember, students, we are here for you. Please reach out to us directly to talk or for support (DM us, call 850-222-5454 or email


High Holidays 5782!

Offerings For High Holidays

FSU Hillel
  • Rosh Hashanah Dinner, Monday 9/6 (individual meals to go, student-hosted small groups, and in-person at Hillel for Freshmen only. Update: sold out!)
  • Yom Kippur Yizkor service, Wednesday, 9/15, 2 p.m. (in-person at Hillel and online hybrid: details will be posted on Instagram and Linktree)
  • Yom Kippur Break Fast, Wednesday, 9/15, 6pm (bagels to go from the Hillel building: details will be posted on Instagram and Linktree)
Hillel International



Rosh Hashanah Dinner 2021

Rosh Hashanah 2021! Wishing You a Sweet New Year.

We are so excited to share our sign up form for this year’s
Rosh Hashanah celebration in partnership with the FSU Jewish Student Union.

Due to virus concerns, we will not be hosting the dinner inside our building; instead a multitude of small group meals will be hosted by students. Please sign up and join our program on Zoom!

Click here to sign up. 

Rosh Hashanah Sign up

Welcome Week 2021! Can’t Wait to Meet You Class of ’25.

We are thrilled to welcome the class of 2025 to Tallahassee!

And, to welcome back all of our other old and new friends. There are lots of opportunities to engage, so please come find us at one of our Welcome Week events or drop us a line so that we can treat you to coffee!

Also, don’t forget to follow us on social media! That is the best way to connect and learn what we have coming up.

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Pikuach Nefesh, Preserving Life

The Jewish principle of Pikuach Nefesh, preserving human life, overrides virtually any other consideration within Jewish communities. Because of our commitment to the health and safety of all of our community members, FSU Hillel has updated its COVID-19 protocols. We encourage and invite everyone who can get vaccinated to do so, for the safety of those who cannot.

For Fall 2021, our updated COVID-19 policies are as follows:

  • Your vaccine affirmation form must be on file to attend in-person events. If you can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons, let us know.
  • Masks will be required for all events. We are happy to provide a mask if you forget yours.
  • You will need to pre-register for all Hillel events. Registration forms are always on LinkTree (see our bio or
  • We will limit participants at indoor events. In addition to small indoor gatherings and Zoom, we’ll also gather outside.
  • All Hillel staff are fully vaccinated and we cannot wait to welcome you back to campus this fall!Fall 2021 Covid Protocols

VACCINATION: Only those who have submitted a vaccination affirmation will be allowed to enter the building for Shabbat services, programs, or meetings. People are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. If you don’t meet these requirements, regardless of your age, you are NOT fully vaccinated.

ILLNESS: If you have any symptoms of illness, we ask you to stay home and attend events via Zoom. (If you need a delivery of matzo ball soup, we gotchu!)

At events, Hillel Staff will be refraining from embraces and maintaining 6 feet of distancing in interactions. Thank you for doing your part to protect the health and life of your fellow students and community members. We are so excited to warmly welcome you back to campus this fall!