Merav Fine Braun, 35, Fostering Jewish Campus Life


@meravie / @hunterhillel

The Jewish Week’s annual 36 Under 36 honors young leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers who are making a difference in the life of Jewish New York. For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.

What do you do?

As executive director of Hunter College Hillel, I do a little bit of everything. I teach a career development class, co-teach several Jewish learning classes every week, and support a team of four staff, two graduate interns, and an army of undergraduate student interns to serve over 1,500 Jewish students. In my four years at Hunter Hillel, we have won the Katz Innovation Award for our creativity in meeting students in their dorms, apartments, and family homes. We have increased our student engagement from 100 students to over 1,000. We have supported students through a pandemic and kept them engaged in community and connected to one another. Above all, we’ve cultivated a community of commuters who are family– an exceedingly challenging task at the best of times.

How has the pandemic impacted your work?

The pandemic took our work, which is entrenched in in-person community building, and forced us to take a hard look at what was essential to our community and put it online. Hunter Hillel was able to provide connections and deeper meaning for the most diverse group of students in the city at a time they needed it most. Through Jewish Learning Fellowships that allowed students to meet new friends, to door -to-door holiday food drop offs for holidays, and then (finally) safe, in-person gatherings for Yom Ha’atzmaut and graduation, Hunter Hillel cultivated  space for students to be Jewish in an embodied and empowered way.

How does your Jewish identity affect your work?

I grew up in Queens, both of my parents are teachers, and my mom is a Moroccan Israeli immigrant. Both of my parents were the first in their families to go to college, and they took education very seriously– as seriously as Jewish heritage and history. I grew up knowing I had a home in New York City and a home in Jerusalem, family in both places, and both Hebrew and English are my native tongues. Many of my students share this experience, and it impacts every aspect of their lives. Integral to my work at Hunter Hillel is modeling that straddling two worlds as a first generation American or college attendee is a challenge that can be overcome through skills building, community development, and great mentorship. It’s my mission to ensure that our students, regardless of background, know that we have their back.

What’s a fun fact about you?

My feet are quite dextrous. I pick things up with them as easily as I do with my hands.

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