Hillel campus programs are special to Rabbi Heidi Coretz — she credits her experiences in Hillel at the University of Florida for ultimately inspiring her to attend rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College.
Now, between her work with Hillel at SMU and WE, a program for Jewish millennials, she gives back much of what she gained in her own experiences as a Hillel student, helping young adults adjust to the demands of college and new careers, all while maintaining a focus on their Jewish faith.
Hillel means praise.
As a freshman at the University of Florida, Coretz found her classes on Hebrew and Judaism to be the most inspiring.
She got involved in Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, and became president of the Jewish Student Union while still a freshman. She eventually switched her major to Jewish studies and decided to attend rabbinical school at the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College.
“We’re not looking to go into a synagogue and have services in the pews. Kind of the opposite. We’re looking to have Shabbat in a variety of very interesting places.” -Rabbi Heidi Coretz
She was ordained in 1995 and met her husband while working as an assistant rabbi in Tulsa.
In 2000, the two moved to Dallas where she began her work as the director of Hillel at SMU.
Increasingly, SMU students from across the country choose to stay in Dallas after graduation. Coretz found many of her former Hillel students, as well as recent graduates of other schools who moved to Dallas for their first job, were dissatisfied with the limited options available for postgraduate fellowship.
Coretz felt she might best be able to serve these millennials by starting a new program.
Coretz approached the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, and after presenting a grant proposal was able to secure $10,000 in funding for a new program to serve Jewish millennials.
The program was named WE, which stands for “We Engage” and reflects the group’s goal to engage through social programs, education, and study groups.
Other organizations in Dallas also work with Jewish millennials, and while Coretz emphasizes that it’s not a competition, part of what helps the WE program stand out is that it is not associated with a synagogue and doesn’t have a dedicated building.
“We’re not looking to go into a synagogue and have services in the pews — kind of the opposite. We’re looking to have Shabbat in a variety of very interesting places,” Coretz said.
WE recently held Shabbat at D Magazine and before that celebrated the first night of Passover with a Seder in Thanksgiving Square where 40 young people attended.
“In the first year that we’ve been operating, we’ve reached and engaged well over a hundred Jewish young adults that are active in our organization now,” Coretz said.
Coretz said she is passionate about Hillel, WE, and her faith.
“I absolutely love the amazing students I get to work with at SMU,” she said. “They are smart, hard-working, creative, caring, and driven.
They are ready to make a difference in the world in their careers and outside of their work.”