Growing up in Solon, Emily Olbinsky Garforth didn’t give a second thought to being Jewish. She went to services, was confirmed and knew Judaism was part of her identity. But like any child, Garforth asked a lot of questions about her culture and frequently wasn’t satisfied with the answers.
After graduating from Solon High School in 2017, Garforth was on her way to Miami University in Oxford, a school that has a smaller Jewish population than her hometown. She found Hillel – as many freshmen do – and attended some events, but didn’t really feel like she had found her place yet. That summer, Garforth went on Birthright and was inspired.
Two years later and after completing an internship with Hillel at Miami, Garforth was elected by her peers to serve as the chapter president for the 2020-21 school year, her senior year.
“We don’t have a lot of the class of 2021 involved in the group, so I had no idea how they were going to choose (a president) or if they wanted to do a co-presidency,” Garforth said. “I wasn’t sure, but this has been on my mind for a while. I was super nervous to apply because it’s a big responsibility and I wasn’t sure if I had the chutzpah to do it. Our previous president was amazing and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to fill those shoes. But, I keep telling myself that everyone leads differently.”
Throughout her junior year as a communications and marketing intern with the group, she attended more activities and went out of her way to meet more of her peers.
“I then started wondering who would be the next president, so I applied and sat through the interview,” she recalled. “I felt more comfortable and at home. I wasn’t expecting it or anything. We have a really good group of kids that we’re all working with and I’m just so excited to be there.”
Garforth said what she felt in Israel during Birthright was a big part of her decision to run for president.
“I felt that overwhelming sense of belonging and coming back from that, I felt that (Hillel) was my place, regardless of how ‘Jewish’ you are,” she said. “It is for me. I’m finding new ways to grow into my Judaism. If you would’ve told me my senior year of high school that I was going to be the president of Hillel at my college, I would’ve been shocked. I’m happy that it happened and I’ve gained a lot of value from it. I’ve grown into it and had to work for it, my appreciation for being a Jew and Judaism.”
Even with the pandemic looming over the fall semester, Garforth said she has goals for the group she’d like to get started on.
“If we could imagine a world where everything is OK, and I wouldn’t have problems scheduling programming (because of the pandemic), I just want Miami’s Hillel to feel good,” she said. “I just want people to feel so welcomed when they come. I want it to be a comforting place to come to. For me specifically, I want to be that person who knows everyone’s name.”
Garforth said she expects to learn meaningful workplace skills, but that isn’t the most important thing to her.
“It’s more important to me to help our community grow than it is for me to grow individually,” she said. “And, if I grow along the way, which I have to in order to lead a growing community, that’s great. I have things that I would personally like to learn and be better at when this is done. But this is more about creating a platform for others to share their experiences and stories. This is more about taking a step back to give others a voice.”