Hillels of Ga. Spotlights Marcuses, Campus Talent

Hillels of Ga. Spotlights Marcuses, Campus Talent

Billi and Bernie Marcus are the honorees at the variety-show fundraiser.

Bernie Marcus is passionate about making college campuses safe for Jewish students.
Bernie Marcus is passionate about making college campuses safe for Jewish students.

Hillels of Georgia is raising the curtain on its 14th annual talent show and fundraiser Tuesday, March 20.

Campus Top Talent will showcase student performances and honor Billi and Bernie Marcus for their support of Hillel locally and internationally.

This year’s program will feature a new variety show format with three to five acts performing and competing for a cash prize. At press time, the finalists were still being chosen from dozens of submissions.

The talent show also will take place at a new venue: the Georgia Aquarium, founded by Bernie Marcus, its chairman emeritus.

The fundraiser has taken different themes over the years. In its earliest years, it was modeled after “American Idol.” More recently, the contest featured a cappella groups.

Rabbi Russ Shulkes, Hillels of Georgia’s executive director, promises the program will remain highly entertaining.

“If it’s not fun, we’ve failed,” Rabbi Shulkes said.

The annual event is an important opportunity to promote the work and mission of Hillels of Georgia, which serves students at 24 colleges and universities. Rabbi Shulkes said the goal is for people to know that programming providing Jewish connections, support and leadership opportunities has evolved to meet the changing needs on campuses and that Hillel is on the front line against hate speech and anti-Semitism.

For their support and commitment to the Hillel mission, the Marcuses will receive the Visionary Award at the event.

Campus Top Talent isn’t using the “Pitch Perfect” a cappella theme of last year’s Peach Perfect, but the cause and the entertainment value are the same.

Through the Marcus Foundation, the Marcuses have given $38.5 million to Hillel International, which operates on 550 college campuses in the United States and around the world, and they singled out Hillels of Georgia for a separate gift.

Hillels of Georgia is based at Emory University’s 8-year-old Marcus Hillel Center.

“They have invested in every way and been as supportive as humanly possible for what Hillel does,” Rabbi Shulkes said. Marcus grants in Georgia enable campus programming that promotes future leaders and develops Jewish professionals.

The money has paid for several new positions, including three Israel fellows, that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible, he said.

“That’s why we’re giving the Marcuses the Visionary Award. They’ve invested, and they believe in us. They’ve been game-changers across the country. We are saying thank you for the world,” Rabbi Shulkes said.

Hillel “is a great haven for Jewish students,” Bernie Marcus said. “There are great Hillel programs that are substantial in raising awareness of Israel and their own Jewishness. On many campuses we have students suffering anti-Semitism and anti-Israel (attitudes) even from their professors. Both Billi and I feel very strongly that these kids should feel safe on campuses.”

While the Marcuses strongly support the Hillel mission overall, they have a special feeling for the Georgia organization.

“Billi and I supported the opening of that first building (on the Emory campus), but buildings don’t mean anything. It’s the leadership that really counts,” Marcus said. “They had wonderful leadership for a number of years, and new leadership now continues what was done before on (University of Georgia, Emory, Georgia Tech) and other campuses as well. All you have to do is speak to students and hear about the wonderful experiences they’ve had and how this makes campus life more meaningful for them.”

Rabbi Shulkes said organizers hope to raise $450,000 to $500,000 from Campus Top Talent.

Marcus himself appealed to families. “I would just urge them to support Hillel emotionally and financially,” he said. “It’s a good thing for your grandchildren and your children.”

What: Campus Top Talent
Where: Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker St., downtown
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 20
Tickets: $250 ($150 under age 40); hillelsofgeorgia.org/campustoptalent

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