As noted here before, it takes 11 minutes to walk from the DC convention center, where the J Street conference is held, to the headquarters of Hillel International. After announcing that he’d come and address the 1,100 Jewish college students here at the conference, Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut later backed out, saying that he couldn’t speak at the same conference as Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. This left J Street U, the college arm of J Street, understandably miffed
At noon today, hundreds marched from the convention center down to Hillel HQ to deliver signed letters expressing their dismay with Fingerhut (reproduced in full below).
In addition to the letter, marchers were given sticky notes and told to write on them, “Dear Eric, you cancelled on [insert name here].”
This was the most energized, fun event of the convention so far. There was no chanting and there were no banners or signs, nor did organizers seek a protest permit. Instead, the students who spoke struck a firm, but diplomatic tone. “We offer ourselves as partners,” J Street U President Benjy Cannon told the assembled students and other supporters.
Supporters of Open Hillel have also been calling the Hillel offices all day to leave messages for Eric Fingerhut in a similar vein. They are particularly aggrieved about the recent legal threats from Hillel International toward Swarthmore Hillel — which, partly in response to those threats, announced a name change today.
This whole thing is leading to some fascinating divisions within the wider world of Hillel. When Fingerhut pulled out, 30-some-odd Hillels around the country came out in support of their student delegations attending. And I noticed a handful of Hillel rabbis and directors at the march itself.
Strange days for Hillel, friends.
Keep reading below the letter to Fingerhut for more photos.
Dear Mr. Fingerhut,
Over the past two weeks, we have heard from you and from Hillel International that a “broad consensus of stakeholders” prevented you from speaking with over 1,000 pro-Israel, pro-peace students in attendance at the J Street National Conference.
Despite being an integral part of the Jewish and pro-Israel communities on campus, and despite our tireless work to ensure Israel’s future, you were still unwilling to publicly engage with us at our conference.
Sadly, we must ask: who is Hillel meant to serve? A small group of donors, or the thousands of students who are the future of our communities?
Despite hearing that J Street U students are an important part of the Hillel community, we believe that actions speak louder than words. Now is the time for such action.
If you are ready to engage with us in a serious way, we ask that you set up an on-the-record meeting between the J Street U National Student Board and Hillel International’s Board of Directors before the starts of the 2015-2016 academic year.
We leave Washington on Tuesday afternoon. We ask that you let us know before then whether you will convene a meeting between the J Street U National Student Board and Hillel International’s Board of Directors to help ensure that Hillel’s priority is engaging seriously with students, or whether you will not help convene a meeting for Board Members and donors of Hillel to develop deeper relationships with the students that make up the Hillel community.
A delegation of J Street U leaders will return to tomorrow (Tuesday) at 2:00pm to receive your response.