Hillel launches fundraiser for group criticized by Pittsburgh gunman

GW Hillel kicked off a weeklong campaign Monday raising funds for those fleeing persecution around the world.

Sophomore Yael Sternberg, an engagement intern for Hillel, organized the inaugural “Miracle Week” to raise funds for HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit that provides legal assistance and asylum to refugees worldwide. Sternberg said she choose to donate money to the group formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society after it was discovered that the man charged with killing 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue late last month had previously criticized the organization on social media.

“I hope people raise awareness for refugees who need help in a nonpartisan way, not even a religious way,” Sternberg said.

The week of events began with a “Penny Wars” competition Monday during which students from different classes placed coins in a jar in Square 80. Sternberg said members of the group also tabled in Square 80 Tuesday for students to purchase “Shabbat-o-grams” – bags of candy with a note that students can deliver to their friends.

As of Tuesday, Hillel had raised about $100, but Sternberg said she has not set a fundraising goal for the campaign.

Sternberg also organized a profit-share with the Brooklyn Sandwich Company, a kosher food truck, that is scheduled for Thursday. The organization will close the week Friday with a raffle drawing for nine donated gift cards from companies like Char Bar, a kosher restaurant and Amazon.

Members of the group will also pass out free t-shirts to students participating in the events throughout the week, she said.

Rabbi Daniel Novick, the assistant director of Hillel, said Sternberg approached him earlier this month with the idea to host Miracle Week ahead of Hanukkah. Novick said he wanted to promote HIAS’ work after the organization was criticized on social media by the man who perpetrated the Pittsburgh shooting.

“On the one hand, we hope that students use this as an opportunity to catch up with the people who are tabling and to remind people that Hillel is around, especially for Hanukkah next week – and most importantly, to get information out there about HIAS’ work,” he said.

Novick said about 25 people stopped by Hillel’s table or purchased a raffle ticket during the first event Monday. Hillel also received pins, buttons, pamphlets and stickers from HIAS to distribute to students who visit the tabling events to promote the organization to students.

“It wasn’t necessarily meant to engage or bring out the masses or hundreds of people, but rather to put HIAS’ name out there as an organization,” Novick said.

Ana Levy, a fellow for Hillel, said Sternberg created Instagram stories and took photos of events to post on Hillel’s social media pages daily throughout the week. As of Wednesday, about 40 students indicated they were interested in the events on Facebook.

Levy added that the week is also being promoted through Hillel’s weekly newsletter.

“I hope that Miracle Week gives students the opportunity to give to a great organization, HIAS, and to connect with each other before the craziness of finals begins,” Levy said in an email.

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