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Hillel Turns Focus Towards Half-Jews & The Secular

Hillel excitedly announces:

“We’ve created what we call a BHAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal – to double the number of students who have meaningful Jewish experiences,” Hillel President Avraham Infeld said. “We want to ensure all Jewish students, from those with a traditional upbringing to those without a strong Jewish background, that there is a warm, welcoming Jewish community for them on campus.”
[… A] survey of more than 600 Jewish undergraduate and graduate students revealed a lot about the Millennial generation, including greater likelihoods that:

  • They are a part of an interfaith family;
  • They have a non-Jewish boyfriend or girlfriend;
  • They identify as ethnically Jewish rather than religiously Jewish; and
  • They feel they have a responsibility to serve not only the Jewish people, but the global community.

This data has helped Hillel focus its mission – “to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world” – and define its core organizational values. With an emphasis on pluralism, social justice, Jewish learning and Israel, Hillel hopes to inspire every Jewish student to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life.

No word though on whether or not Jews who are vocally critical of Israel (progressive Zionists, post-Zionists and anti-Zionists alike) are welcome in the Hillel community…*** UPDATE ***
Former Vice President of International Affairs for Hillel, Richard Marker writes, “The real issue is how much of this is marketing hype and how much of it is likely to change the way Hillels and others do business. When Hillel capitalized on the issues raised in the 1990 Jewish population survey, almost nothing Hillel did was actually new but it was packaged in such a way as to bring substantial new support in – under the guise of being new. That wasn’t a bad thing; in fact it was a very good thing since it brought substantial new monies to the Hillel table. It meant that lots of new staff and programs WERE able to provide for expanded saturation of the campus market. But for all the new ‘programs’ it still left substantial numbers of marginally identified Jews on campus feeling as outsiders. Even the ‘campus service corps’ – which was a major expansion of programs lots of us had done for years – was built on a problematic starting point: it assumed that the most transient and least trained staff were best able to deal with the majority of the Jews on any given campus, without providing any real training to the rest of the staff on how to change the internal culture which allowed most Hillels to be controlled by the committed minority. Similarly, if the result of this study is to hire newly graduated people, and tell them that the millenialists are a special cohort but not really the main target audience of Hillel, the impact on campus will be only incremental. Real change requires real change.”
Joseph Gindi, a former Jewish Campus Service Corps Fellow of Hillel at Yale writes, “I second Richard’s assessment. I’m not sure if real change will happen. I think there needs to be a radical re-imaging of what the goals of Hillel are. If the goals are to prevent intermarriage, then they are never going to reach out to many multi-faith students because the goals of Hillel will be perceived as counter to their own identity (which they are). As for critics of Israel, I also dont see much movement. In fact, the end of the article included Israel, meaning support for Israel, as one of the four emphases of Hillel. In fact, Hillel views birthright trips as a way to get folks involved. Since those trips are designed (with some notable exceptions) to foster a simplistic and uncritical love of Israel, they actually further narrow the Israel discourse on campuses. That said, we can all hope they get the ‘right’ messages from this research. I’m not sure they will, but at least its a step in the right direction.” –>

15 thoughts on “Hillel Turns Focus Towards Half-Jews & The Secular

  1. Umm, at my Hillel, you can be vocally critical of Israel. But of course, someone will argue with you. But people tend to argue with you if you’re critical of anything.
    I don’t understand your Hillel bashing. I think its a generally great organization. But I guess they are “the establishment”. LOL.

  2. the upz wasn’t created in a vaccuum shmuel. it was created to fill a need. i know dozens of students who feel unwelcome at their local hillels due to their political beliefs.
    “wherever we stand, we stand with israel,” isn’t as inclusive a slogan as it sounds.

  3. I think another problem with Hillel is that it’s not really non-denominational. I’ve heard that, historically, Hillel was designed for non-Orthodox Jews, but whether that’s still true is unclear — many people in Hillel, including directors, will say that it’s for all Jews, regardless of belief or whatever. I haven’t found this to be true. Some Hillels aren’t really hospitable to Orthodox, or even Conservative/traditiona l, Jews.
    Maybe because they’re “the establishment,” they’re too watered-down and based on social get-togethers to be genuinely diverse and allow for controversy.

  4. I don’t understand. I thought that Hillel and the Union of Progressive Zionists complemented one another — I didn’t realize they stood in opposition. What’s going on?

  5. they could complement each other if hillel avoided politics and stuck to being a jewish religious and cultural organization. however when you have hillels organizing pro-israel rallies and counter-demonstrations against palestinian solidarity groups on campus, hillel becomes an alienating institution for those jews who may find themselves on the left side of the fence.

  6. mobius, I think that’s an unreasonable suggestion. When anti-Israel events occur on our campus, the students look to Hillel for support. Hillel’s mission statement includes the goal of enriching the lives of Jewish students on campus, and for many students, Israel activity is in fact enriching.
    If Hillel is truly to be an umbrella Jewish organization, it can’t, and should not, cut its ties to Israel. Israel is a Jewish state, and thus Jewish life and events in Israel are inextricably linked.
    I will admit that it’s hard to decide where to draw the line–our Hillel has struggled with that issue- in terms of what is acceptable to say about Israel (calling it discriminatory vs. an apartheid state), but nevertheless, the challenge in that question does not make it necessary for Hillel to disassociate with Israel.
    On another note, your comment “Hillel becomes an alienating institution” is problematic because MANY things hillel does could be seen as “alienating”, depending on one’s view. For example, reform Jews may be alienated by Orthodox services, say, a weekday Mincha when, at our Hillel, there are only Orthodox services. Yet, that’s not reason enough to cancel Orthodox services: inherent in pluralism is the willingness to tolerate (but not necessarily participate) in activities that you don’t “agree with”.

  7. i hear ya. but if hillel seeks to be more inclusive and truly pluralistic, it needs to be as open to holding a jewish demonstration against the occupation as it is to holding a jewish demonstration against terrorism.

  8. I have to agree with Flurry on this one. My uncle is the chazzan during the high holidays for a very large and active Hillel in a big city with a sizable Jewish population. They get him to do it because he knows the tunes better than most of their people, but besides that he has no affiliation during the rest of the year. I saw him at a meal just after he’d led services this past Rosh Hashanah and he tells me, “I don’t know what people do there. If I weren’t the one leading services, I’d die of boredom.” Meanwhile, my sister goes to this school and she always feels alienated by the so-called “touchy feely-ness” of the Reform philosophy that permeates the Hillel. They say all the words that the Orthodox don’t, but convey none of the emotion. I wonder if the kids brought up Reform get something out of it. I wonder if they can relate to it. It seems that if one is brought up Conservative or Orthodox, they can go to Madrid (which I’ve done) and the traditions still resonate, or Boston, or Amsterdam. But from my semi-rich interaction with Reform Judaism (through girlfriend of two years, plus only local synagogue in my current town), I see no consistency in liturgy. Then I see the Reform kids at Hillel and they can’t lead ritualistically because, again, there was no firm platform on which to look back to and base things. So there’s my little tirade against the ritualistic dilution of the Reform movement.
    Back to subject at hand, I honestly don’t know what Hillel can do to please the whole spectrum. Probably nothing, because it always comes down to the same thing: “Two Jews, three opinions.” Shucks, we’re just a tough crowd to please.

  9. I think Hillel should stick to religious and cultural duties. If they want to organize political events the Hillel leaders should form a separate pro-Israel campus group for that stuff. It’s not hard; UVA has both a Hillel and a Hoos for Israel group, and it helps make Hillel feel more inclusive.

  10. I don’t agree that pro-Israel rallies are particularly political, to be frank. If these were rallies about specific Israeli policies then, sure, people can reasonably differ, and they want to avoid that. But to the extent they’re just waving the flag, all they’re really supporting is Israel’s existence. That’s not controversial among Jews, or shouldn’t be; our right to a homeland is part of international law, and quite distinct from how one feels about West Bank settlements or whatever.
    On the other hand, it’s true that if Israel dominates the agenda too much, then a Hillel would be off track, and I certainly agree that to the extenet separate organisations exist for such things then it helps Hillel to be more inclusive. But overall I object to the tone taken. The point is to figure out how to work things out through Hillel; derisive language like “Hillel excitedly announces” is just childish insult, and certainly not consistent with the stated intent to avoid bad-mouthing (shmirat lashon and so on).

  11. first a correction, gindi, though amazing was a JCSC at Yale not the former director. Amy Aaland is the ED and Jim Ponet is the rabbi/chaplain.
    on to content.
    as a former hillel leader, i once heard innfeld say in a speech “there is no place in hillel for a president who doesn’t support the state of israel”. i followed up and asked him about people who were post-nationalist and saw statist politics as damaging. he said that we should e-mail. unsurprisingly after stumping about it repeatedly it became clear that he thought non-zionists, post-zionists, and anti-zionists are all inappropriate for leadership in hillel. in fact, he played an important role in deposing a student leader the other year. so, no Shmuel, though local hillels can be alright the international pushes a zionist line very hard in ways that can be marginalizing.
    the new mission statement seems much better. it concentrates on content and bettering the wolrd. so hey, maybe things will improve instead of just pushing the circular logic of jewish continuity.
    lastly, the way brown hillel works, is as an umbrella. certain groups are quite pro-israel (even conventionally so), some groups are much more progressive. “hillel” doesn’t take positions on israel, or any other issue. hillel groups do. in that sense it is a broad tent which works well. “hillel” is a catalyst to make it easy for people to come together and make amazing things happen. it has political pieces but they don’t claim to speak for all jews or the organization. this is the critical point: that no constinutent group has any m,ore authenticity than any other and thus, it is more pluralistic and less marginalizing than most other models.

  12. Mobius’s excited effort to recruit additional comments which support his views are nice. But Zach’s portrait of a Hillel which works is much more constructive. How do the Brown model which Zach talks about to other Hillels? Are there people at the Brown Hillel to whom those who Mobius identifies as “excluded” — but who are more interested in improving community life than trashing it, mind you — to whom they can talk about bringing the model to their own campus Hillels, sort of like an … um .. intervention?

  13. Hillel is THE pluralistic Jewish organization on campus. Think about the current alternative, Chabad. Do you think this would even be a conversation that could concievably take place within that strucutre? Depsite what some individual Hillels may take as a focus on their particular campus, as a whole, Hillel should and in some cases does provide space for students who in the words of this website “reserve the right to think critically.”
    This study can only serve to make Hillels a more inclusive and welcoming place for students who wrestle with their Jewish identities and thoughts on Israel. However, because of the local character of so many Hillels it will be up to individual directors and staff members to help effect this change. If you want to see the organization perspective on Israel, click here… http://cms.hillel.org/Hillel/I… There is a lot of room in the list of programmatic priorities for things Mobius had mentioned. While I don’t agree with hoppingbis about the necessity of staying out of politics, it is possible in some Hillels to create the space he/she was talking about. This could be the start of a larger systemic change but it will take the committment of everyone along the way to help make this happen. I am encouraged by the new focus as it is one step closer to making that change occur. What other choice to we have but to take what is there and work to make it better?

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