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Illini Hillel Centennial Blog #11: Hillel's Long(sleeve) Legacy of Wearables

By Erez Cohen

Susan (Turitz) Cooper and Beri Schwitzer

When Faye Lesht, a former Illini Hillel board member told me that she is bringing one of Joyce Meyer’s (Z”L) old Hillel shirts I was very curious to see what it would look like. Hillel branded T-shirts go way back. It’s not surprising either. Branded campus “wearables” have been around for a very long time. They serve as a way of highlighting school spirit (by wearing the school colors), associating student groups with the school (by combining their logo or name with University associated symbols) and celebrating different campus events such as Rosh Hashanah (David Neuman) or Israel Week (modeled by Julie Shamir and Tali Segev). 

My dear friend Shachar Meron, a senior lecturer in the department of advertising and academic director of the MS Strategic Brand Communication Program explains that: “People often form communities around the brands they feel strongly about - schools, sports teams, religious institutions, even some products and companies - sometimes called “brand tribes.” Wearables like t-shirts are great ways for people to show their belonging with and support for their tribe, a way to spread awareness while also demonstrating their affiliation. It’s a mating call for like-minded individuals.” 

This is so true for Illini Hillel, that one of our past shirts actually introduced Illini Hillel as “a different kind of tribe”, making a reference to the inside idiom “M.O.T – Member Of the Tribe”. These shirts often are used to show – if you get it – you and I understand each other. When I went to visit Erwin Epstein (class of ’64) a few weeks ago, he opened the door proudly wearing a Hillel shirt with the word Illinois of Illinois at Urbana Champaign spelled out verbatim in Hebrew. Mark Heisler (’86) sent us a photo with another shirt and different spelling of the state name in Hebrew.

Wearing a specific Hillel t-shirt, just like Illini athletic shirts can also reveal when you went to Illinois, or when you last visited. Robbie Schnitzer and Eitan Troyanski sent us a photo of them modeling the 2013 and 2017 shirts. Sometimes there can be some timeless wearables, like this shirt designed by Coby Engelhart (class of 2011) and worn by Hillel President Evan Frank.

So when Faye dropped of Joyce’s shirt. I was excited to check it out. Indeed, it gave me quite the chuckle.

Some of our readers know that Joyce passed away recently after a long illness. In her lifetime, she was also a dear friend of mine and Hillels and a former board member. Having something left from her in Hillel’s archives feels like a true heirloom.

So we wear our wearables to remember the past, but we also wear them to celebrate our future. Hunter here is going to be the University of Illinois class of 2037 (unless he does gap year in Israel before coming to Champaign Urbana). While Hillel’s centennial blog celebrates all the shirts that were already worn by so many Illini Hillel alumni, we are raising an endowment fund to ensure that future Illini, like Hunter will have the resources they need to create their own wearable version of Hillel of the future. 

Do you have a Hillel wearable to share? Send it to us with the story behind it here.

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