More than 1,200 students worldwide have already signed up for the free classes.

Hillel International will be launching an initiative to connect students virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dubbed "Winterfest," from the start of the spring semester until the end of next January, Hillel will be organizing 170 small-setting experiences that will be held at universities in nine countries across the world.

"”The story of our namesake, Hillel the Elder, being brought in from the cold, snowy roof to be warmed by the hearth of the Beit Midrash (House of Learning) within speaks to the ways the rabbis imagined that Torah could warm the soul and the body,” Hillel’s Vice President For Jewish Education Rabbi Benjamin Berger said. “With Hillel Winterfest, we can create cozy environments of learning that warm the soul, the mind and the body.”

“While this moment doesn’t allow students to be together in the ways they need and we wish they could be, we can still leverage the expertise we’ve built over the past year to create small groups that, even over Zoom, foster community and learning,” Berger added.

The programs are intended to provide substantive Jewish learning to students on and off campus, all the while combating social isolation by fostering connections among Jewish students amid the health crisis.

The program, sponsored by the Maimonides Fund and Jim Joseph Foundation through the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund, will launch the small-setting experiences throughout Belarus, Canada, France, Georgia, Germany, Israel, Russia, Ukraine and the US.

Berger notes that normally the college experience allows students to create countless personal connections, and with that grow increasingly independent overtime. However, amid the health crisis, many new students have to forego this experience within their first year or two of college, as current health guidelines do not allow for these types of interactions.

“Many of the most meaningful experiences students have at Hillel are in smaller groups. With Winterfest, Hillel is building on the Jewish concept of a minyan – a gathering of 10 people with a specific purpose – to bring light and warmth to students during this dark time,” said Hillel President and CEO Adam Lehman.

“We learned from the work we did to support Jewish college community throughout this year, and we found that activities where students could gather in cohorts, which met regularly, generated better attendance and interest than drop-in or one-off activities. This is what students are looking for and that is what Winterfest will provide,” Lehman added.

More than 1,200 students worldwide have already signed up for the free classes.