Reaching out to College Students: Hart Levine


Call it a change of Hart.

An undergraduate bioengineering major at the University of Pennsylvania seven years ago, Hart Levine, along with some fellow Modern Orthodox Jews, embarked on some dormitory Chanukah caroling that led to a campus-wide — then nationwide — outreach effort, and for Levine (at least for now) a new career.

With an eye on Jewish communal work, Levine is based at the Manhattan headquarters of the Orthodox Union, steering the development of the Heart to Heart Project that grew out of his work in college.

During the caroling he met many Jewish students, “non-regulars,” who weren’t part of any organized Jewish activities. He and a few friends began hosting “Project Shabbat” dinners that grew to 35 a year.

After college, he decided to take his model of student-run dinners and holiday celebrations national. He convinced his parents of the propriety of doing a stint of community service, visiting yeshivot in Israel and describing his vision to American students. “How do I sign up?” they asked.

Levine visits schools across the country, compiling a directory of kosher food and Jewish resources available on every campus.

In the morning, he’s studying in the ordination program of Yeshiva University. “Regular people have a lot to offer,” he says. “I’m not a rabbi. I don’t have a beard.”

What about his YU studies?

“I don’t tell people I’m a rabbinical student.” In other words, he doesn’t want people to have preconceived notions.

Hosted first-night seder…: As an extension of his college-oriented activities, Levine and his wife, Yael, and a friend invited a dozen Manhattanites, many of them unaffiliated, to a “seder with neighbors” in their Washington Heights apartment this year. … for the second night, an Exodus: The next day, they walked to the home of Hart’s parents, nine miles south in Greenwich Village. Hardly desert weather. “It was raining,” he says.