When Sophie Bloch meets and greets Jewish students at University of Memphis and Rhodes College this fall, she’s ready to share her excitement about the Hillel movement.
“Hillel encourages college students to explore their Judaism in their own way,” explained Sophie. “This was unconventional to me and what interested me most.”
The new director of Hillels of Memphis comes to the Memphis with years of experience, and knowledge about what it takes to navigate Jewish life throughout the college years.
But her college experience didn’t begin with Hillel in the picture.
“I had been dancing since middle school,” said Sophie. “It was a natural choice to continue dance studies and art education at the University of California, Berkeley. In my junior year, though, I began to get burned out. The practice, performances…I was looking for something more in my life.”
Her research led her to Hillel where she learned about Birthright trips to Israel. When she returned from Israel, her life changed completely. “I made a lot of friends, connections to other Jewish students and staff, and really made Hillel a priority in my life,” explained Sophie. “I fast-tracked my way through the program attending every event that I could. I became a leader and soon realized that I wanted to work for Hillel.”
She changed her focus from dance to Jewish studies and graduated from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts in Dance and Performance Studies, a Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric, and a Master of Arts in Jewish Education.
Now she’s ready to share the positive experiences she gained while spending four years as a professional at the University of California, San Diego, Hillel. There, her dedication and commitment were recognized as she worked her way up from travel counselor and marketing associate, to director of engagement and finally to director of student life.
“I believe everything happens for a reason,” said Sophie of all the changes then, and more recently. Her new husband, Aaron, (they were just married in May) was matched with the University of Health Sciences (UTHS) Department of Urology Residency Program. Aaron had looked into Memphis as a possibility because his brother had also been in the same urology residency program.
“Urologists are matched earlier than other medical specialties,” explained Sophie. “As soon as he was notified, I began looking for a job in Memphis. It was perfect timing that Jewish Community Partners had posted the job for Hillels of Memphis. This must mean something, we thought.”
When Sophie found out she was the perfect match for Hillels of Memphis, the couple was delighted that they wouldn’t be spending their first month or year as newlyweds apart.
“Jewish college students and the entire Memphis Jewish community will benefit from the ‘perfect timing,’” said Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein, JCP’s Chief Strategy Officer. “Anyone who meets Sophie will immediately connect with her warm and engaging manner. We all look forward to her taking our two campus Hillel chapters to even greater heights.”
“I am very excited to get to connect with the students, mentor and support them as they learn where Judaism interacts with other parts of their life,” said Sophie.
Since her arrival in July, Sophie has begun making connections with the religious life organizations on both campuses. She’s been making plans for a welcome reception for Rhodes students, holiday meals and connecting local families with the college students.
Sophie realizes that success will look different on each campus, but she will be available to make every Jewish student feel welcome and try to find that connection at their home away from home.
Since Rhodes College is a private school, finding those claiming Judaism on their application makes it easier for a director to connect. On the other hand, since the University of Memphis is a public school, those records are protected and not given to religious campus organizations.
“If you know of a Jewish student attending a Memphis college or university, please send me their contact information, and I will happily reach out,” said Sophie. She can be reached at 901.452.2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.