All posts by Margarita Nieves

The Latest on Covid


Like every community and institution, the last month at Slifka Center has been a series of responses to the unprecedented challenges posed by the Coronavirus outbreak. Now that we have cleared those initial disoriented weeks, we are taking a moment to reflect and share how we are refocusing our work of building Jewish community and nurturing students.

Our most consistent and fundamental priority has been safety – for our students, our staff, and the broader community. We followed Yale’s aggressive lead in rapidly closing Slifka Center, and took early steps in the New Haven Jewish community to discourage the types of social gatherings that had been known to lead to spread in New York and Israel. No gathering, no matter how exciting or how long-planned, is worth the risk.

Built on this commitment to safety, we have supported our students and broader community in three primary ways: providing stability, meeting financial need, and addressing the spiritual moment.

Providing Stability: Students’ lives have been turned upside down by the virus in the present and future – and we have sought to provide a stable, reliable base of relationships and community to help them navigate this challenging terrain together. Here many of the core Hillel methodologies – maintaining constant one-on-one communication with every student, embracing the diversity of our community, and empowering student leaders to take on leadership – have proved more valuable than ever. We have essentially moved our normal programs, classes, and services on-line; we have been in one-on-one contact with well over 100 students to hear about their lives and let them know someone is thinking of them; and we have even held student-board elections. And we have found a variety of new ways of gathering, creating asynchronous conversations to replace those that would have happened over lunch. All of this has been particularly essential as the diversity of students has only come to the fore – while campus is a great equalizer, differences in home situations from access to the internet to having a room of one’s own are magnified now – so developing a diverse and tailored approach is all the more important.

Meeting Financial Need: The financial dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic have touched everyone – including the Yale community. Since Yale has recently diversified its student body, a number of students rely on it for their own material well being, and that of their families. In addition to distributing over $2,000 in direct grants to students in need, we have taken steps to ensure that workers impacted by the closure of the Slifka Center dining hall are made as whole as possible for their lost wages. Finally, we are planning carefully for the long-term financial health of Slifka Center as an institution in the event that the current economic downturn becomes a recession, or worse. This process will be painful, but is necessary.

Addressing the Spiritual Moment: Spiritual support and inspiration are needed now more than ever, and we have made addressing the challenges of a foreboding future, a rapidly shifting present, and the emotional difficulty of family members’ sicknesses a central part of what we have done. The heart of this work has been numerous pastoral conversations with students who have lost family members to COVID-19 or themselves been sick, who have been unable to attend funerals because of travel restrictions, and who are struggling with loneliness and depression due to social distancing. We have also produced materials – a series of weekly emails that have been read over 10,000 times, an online session for students and alumni planning Passover celebrations over Zoom. Most importantly, we have empowered students and community members to support one another – with students producing not one but two amazing Haggadah supplements, and members of the local New Haven Jewish community buying one another groceries and calling one another over the holiday.

Throughout all of this, we have been keenly aware that our students and our community have never needed us as much as they do now – and never been more grateful for the engagement and support of everyone who makes our work possible.

Please do not hesitate to reach out as you have questions or ideas, or ways that we can be of service.


Uri CohenExecutive Director

Rabbi Jason RubensteinHoward M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale

Slifka Center Awarded The Campus Partnership Award

At Global Assembly in Atlanta, largest Jewish campus organization recognizes contributions of exemplary campus Hillels
Slifka Center Honored for Campus Partnership with Yale

“Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale serves as a model of how Hillels around the world succeed in engaging and educating students, no matter their size or location,” said Hillel International Interim President and CEO Adam Lehman. “We’re incredibly proud of our talented professionals for the work they do every day to inspire and support Jewish students and their entire campus communities.”

The award to Slifka Center, along with 15 other awards, which also recognize those who reflect Hillel’s culture of excellence, were presented at Hillel International’s annual Global Assembly in Atlanta, attended by more than 1,100 Hillel professionals from around the world as an opportunity for professional development, networking and continuing education.

The Campus Partnership Award recognizes Slifka Center’s multi-faceted partnerships with Yale centers and departments. These include active programmatic collaborations with the African-American House, La Casa – Yale’s Latino cultural center, Asian-American Cultural Center, Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale, Chaplain’s Office, and more. Activities include domestic and international travel (especially to Israel), research, career development, social justice, and community organizing opportunities.

The Award also highlights Slifka Center’s strategic partnership with the student-led Yale College Council. The result is a late dining program that ensures that all students – including athletes, STEM students who have late labs, and those who hold jobs while in school – have access to a healthy dinner at Slifka Center’s Lindenbaum Kosher Kitchen and Heyman Dining Commons. Together, the Yale College Council and Slifka Center filled a chronic need, and in doing so strengthened the entire Yale community. With this prestigious award, Hillel International has named Slifka Center’s partnership with Yale as a model for other Hillels around the world to follow.

Message from Uri Cohen, Slifka Center Executive Director

New Year, New Doors 

It’s hard to believe that 2019 is almost over – the year went by so fast! And, as they say, when one door closes, another one opens.

In review, in 2019 we…

  • We finished an academic year in which we interacted with 588 Jewish undergraduates at least once – that’s 78% of all Jewish Students at Yale!
  • We saw a 500% increase in the use of our dining hall thanks to our expanded dining hours and the publicity about the expansion that went to all of Yale College
  • We began offering free Shabbat and holiday meals to undergraduate and graduate students who are not on a meal plan as a way to make sure that no one is turned away because of an inability to pay (graciously funded by a new donor program)
  • We launched a new kitchen program under the auspices of Unidine – our new kitchen operator – and the Star-K – our new kosher supervision agency partner
  • We fixed the persistent leaks in the roof and masonry, and upgraded our security and emergency-preparedness infrastructure
  • We hired fabulous new staff members that have enhanced our programming, educational leadership, and administrative capacity
  • We completed the 24th year of Slifka Center, and the 78th year of Hillel’s service at Yale

In 2020 we will continue our work to serve more students, recruit the best and brightest Jewish students to choose Yale, and begin construction on our 25th anniversary renovation.

As I think about the last 16 months and all of the building, repairing, and innovating that we’ve been fortunate to do, I am so grateful to those alumni, parents, and friends who choose to invest in our future. As you know, Yale students go on to do the most amazing things, and I feel fortunate to be in partnership with you in making sure that students’ Jewish identities, values, and interests are vibrant, strong, and present now and into the future. This mission is vital – now more than ever.

Now is the time to make your tax deductible gift for year-end 2019. Thank you!


Uri Cohen