Last week, the Jewish campus outreach movement Heart to Heart, part of the Orthodox Union’s NextGen Division, tried to raise $60,000 in 24 hours. In the end, they didn’t raise the $60,000.
They raised $80,000!
Heart to Heart began as a simple idea. While studying bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008, Hart Levine realized that most of the thousands of Jews at Penn were devoid of anything Jewish in their lives. He felt compelled to do something about it.
He thought, “Why not give them a warm, stimulating Shabbat meal with their Penn peers?” He promptly met with a group of fellow Orthodox students, urging them to get the word out to every non-affiliated classmate they knew. “I knew that they could reach other students in a way that no organization could,” he says.
That first Shabbat dinner led to many more and soon included holiday celebrations. Levine enlisted the help of rabbanim who educated the group on running a halachic seder for people unfamiliar with Jewish law or what a seder actually represents. According to Levine, between the two nights in the first year, roughly 150 students participated in the seders. “For some of them it was the first time they walked into the Hillel building,” he says.
His brainchild quickly turned into a thriving grassroots movement, as campuses across the country readily implemented the, aptly named, Heart to Heart program. “This is exactly what our campus needs,” Orthodox students told Levine.
Looking to network about the growing program, Levine asked Rabbi David “Dave” Felsenthal, director of OU’s NextGen division, to mentor him and work with his leaders. Rabbi Dave was so impressed that he invited Hart and Heart to Heart to join the OU. With the OU’s help, Heart to Heart continued to expand, allowing thousands of unaffiliated Jewish college students to experience meaningful Judaism for the first time.
Last month, Rabbi Dave approached three donors and offered them a deal: If Rabbi Dave could raise $60,000 in a 24-hour period, they would cover one-quarter of the amount pledged. If not, every donation would have to be returned. The goal was easily met within seven hours. A bonus round of new pledges by the OU NextGen board added an additional $20,000 to the total amount.
Evidently, the campaign generated considerable excitement. “We would tag people on Facebook, saying, ‘Thank you to Sara and David for giving,’” recounts Levine. “Their friends would see it and think, ‘all my friends are giving; maybe I should give too!’” And they did – in droves.
Levine reports that the vast majority of donations came from people who had been involved in the program. “Five or six years after they’ve graduated college and are into their careers, many of them wanted to give back,” says Levine. “The whole model of Heart to Heart is built around empowering the students. So this was a natural extension.”
The $80,000 coup will certainly keep Heart to Heart’s outreach efforts on the current 50 campuses going strong.
“There are a lot of colleges with a dozen to hundreds of Torah observant students and thousands of uninvolved, unaffiliated Jewish students who have never been to a Shabbat table, who don’t know other Jews on campus,” Levine said. “They are thrilled that someone cares about them enough to share a meaningful [Jewish] experience with them.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.