Culture, Identity, Politics

Universities oh my

An interesting mix of media coverage populates the internet today, from the coverage of the rise of secular Jewish cultural programs in universities throughout the country, to the release of a report stating the need that NYU Hillel’s be more “welcoming” to undergraduates who have one Jewish parent, to the extensive coverage of “Inspiring Values, Creating Leaders: The Summit on the University and the Jewish Community,” hosted this week in DC by Hillel. The conference drew more than 600 university leaders, professors, students and Jewish professionals to talk about yes–one of jewschool’s favorite talking points–how to reinvigorate Jewish life into Jewish youth culture.
What stood out the most in reading this coverage was, not only that Hillel pledged to double its numbers over the next five years including “double its annual campaign; double its funding to local Hillels; and launch an aggressive recruitment and retention program for campus professionals,” but also that the Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center will increase its endowment from $10 million to $100 million.
Unbelievable! $100 million!!!
Now I don’t know about you, but Hillel on my campus was far from innovative, embracing or capable of truly bringing in or meeting the needs of the breadth and depth of student life, and I don’t think that this has to do with money–inherently one institution will never be able to meet the needs of a population of people, however small or large, that varies extensively on a number of demographics, including region, class, language, race, political affiliation, background and upbringing, and the list goes on and on.
So what gives? The Schusterman’s seem to be busy with Hillel, recently supporting endeavors in Texas and DC.
So who is the Schusterman Fund?–well according to their website:
“The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is dedicated to helping the Jewish people flourish by supporting programs throughout the world that spread the joy of Jewish living, giving and learning.”
The list of places that this foundation supports is unbelievable–from federations to colleges to the Jerusalem Open House, they’re across the map–Granted I’m not “in the know” about the foundation world, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of these folks before–and I’m wondering if maybe other folks haven’t either and if not, that maybe it’s time we start knocking on their door in Tulsa, and bring coverage like the New Voices recent article on JCPA and the bureaucracy of students trying to engage with a body that claims to “serves as the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community in addressing the mandate of the Jewish community relations field,” or a host of other examples about the barriers to reinvigorating Jewish life, and the need to, not just study the issues impacting Gen X and Gen Y, but to also allow us to build, define and cultivate communities by and for ourselves. And definitely not only through the halls of Hillel.
I’ve always wanted to visit Tulsa, OK.
Update: A Jewschool reader rightfully suggested that we should clarify, that Charles Schusterman passed away in 2000, and since then Lynn has continued to pursue the philanthropic course she first charted with her husband of 38 years. She is joined in this task by her daughter, Stacy Schusterman, the other director of the Foundation.

2nd UPDATE:
Just got off the phone with the Schusterman Family Foundation, and indeed as Jeff Rubin, Associate Vice President for Communications of Hillel wrote in the comment roll, it is NOT the Family Foundation that is increasing its endowment to Hillel by ten. Rather, the Hillel’s headquarters was named after the Schusterman’s after they gave an endowment to help build the center. A bit confusing with the names for sure, but, nonetheless, apologies for continuing to feed this confusion between the foundation, and Hillel’s international center, on Jewschool.

18 thoughts on “Universities oh my

  1. The Schustermans have also been active in helping revive the progressive Jewish communities in the Former Soviet Union. Lynn actually helped fund a trip last year for American rabbinical and cantorial students studying in Israel to travel over there during Pesach and meet with members of the community.
    Having met her personally through this trip, I think she’d be open to listening to your ideas. I’m not sure how many people outside of our generation are really clued into the facts on the ground, i.e. relevance/success of Hillel, given the current news of this humungous increase in endowment. Since there is a bit a funding, it’s definitely worth it for younger community leaders to share their input with the foundation to encourage a broader area outside of this one institution.

  2. As someone “in the know” (so to speak) regarding foundations, the Schustermans are not new. They are part of the giant monolith of big givers supporting primarily non-innovative projects and organizations that are not open to progress. They are notorious for only funding projects that get the Schusterman name on them, and they have exerted pressure over some of their grant-recipients for their private, liberal, Israel-related political activities even when these activities fell entirely outside the purview of the project funded.

  3. I had Rosh Hashana dinner with them last year. Lynn is just an amazing, amazing person.. I’ve been around alot of people with money in my life, and I’ve never met anyone quite like her.
    She’s very friendly and open, I’d contact her website and see about what you’re interested in doing.

  4. An organization like Hillel might make better use of its money by merely providing the physical infrastructure for independent Jewish organizations to use and not make any pretensions as to programming. I know that students will be much more motivated to participate in programming that they themselves think up, not stuff that the professionals propose and that the establishment leadership thinks is “appropriate.”
    Hillel Houses culd thus be “neutral space” where independent self-starting jewish organizations do their thing. This means that the professionals in charge are more managers of real estate and there is less need for rabbbis and educators, who would come and do their thing at the invitation and under the control of the students themselves.
    This model could also work very well for synagogues. Some of these large strile edifices could be reconfigured into a confederation of smaller independent congregations with different approaches that all just happen to share the same space.
    Large one-size-fits-all orgainzations just don’t cut it anymore, if they ever did.

  5. An organization like Hillel might make better use of its money by merely providing the physical infrastructure for independent Jewish organizations to use and not make any pretensions as to programming.
    Hear, hear! Many Hillels already primarily operate this way (with entirely student-run programming and staff to provide support). What we need is something like this in the real world outside of college, to lower barriers to entry for Jewish entrepreneurial projects.

  6. An organization like Hillel might make better use of its money by merely providing the physical infrastructure for independent Jewish organizations to use and not make any pretensions as to programming.

    I’m not sure where you went to school, but my experience with Hillel (actually a “Center for Jewish Life” that was a cooperative project between the university I attended and Hillel) was that Hillel provided the resources for programming, but that students could essentially make whatever they wanted of it. We had a relatively small Jewish population on my campus, but we had all kinds of programming (political, religious, educational, social, music, theater, a film club, etc.) and a choice of three minyans on Friday night (all the same building) with a big joint dinner afterwards. The professional staff did some of the programming on their own, but often they just helped faciliate student programming, of which there was no shortage. I don’t think any student was ever refused the opportunity to sponsor his/her own program.

  7. “They fund JFL, so whoever said they only funded non-innovated projects is off base.”
    How exactly is JFL innovative? Much of what they do looks good, but what has it actually added to Jewish education? How have the resources that they provide enhanced our abilities to have an impact in the field? What resources have they provided that weren’t there before?

  8. The Schustermans are wonderful people, and they fund a great many conferences, such as the New Voices conference (National Conference for Independent Jewish Student Journalists, http://www.newvoices.org).
    But they also fund the AIPAC on Campus interns, the Israel Campus Coalition, and other blindly pro-Israel groups which only contribute to polarization of campus life. Despite my admiration for their humility, they contribute to the pro/anti-Israel binary. Frankly, there are a great many ways to pro-Israel. The ICC and AIPAC acknowledge only one.

  9. Oops!
    The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation has lent its name and its support to many projects and this has led to unfortunate confusion regarding Hillel’s Strategic Plan. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center is the official name of Hillel’s international headquarters: This is the entity that is seeking to increase its endowment tenfold. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is not increasing its endowment of Hillel by ten.
    Jeff Rubin
    Associate Vice President for Communications
    Hillel: The FOundation for Jewish Campus Life

  10. A great example of the hillel as only infrastructure/funding with student led programing model is cornell hillel. Rabbi Ed has set up a system there which encourages the proliferation of student groups. In fact, they dont even have an independent building (being housed in the inter-religious center). Primarily, hillel serves as a financial resource to jewish student groups.

  11. I attended the Summit in DC this past sunday through Tuesday, and the premise of the event was great…the leaders of the Jewish world and universities getting together and figuring out how to reach the “millenials” They covered ipods, blogs…etc, and innovative programming that could reach new students.
    But what they didn’t do (at least to the extent they could have) was utilize the resource they had right at their fingertips…being the students. (myself and approximately 50 others) As a whole we felt a big under-used, having us there at the conference was a great idea, but this was the first Summit ever, and we al suggested that is something they work on in the future if they really want to reach our generation….
    And in referance to the Schustermans, I’ve also had the honor of meeting Lynn on several occasions, and she is an amazing, passionate, down to earth woman.

  12. Jeff: Thanks for your clarification–before I make an editorial note, can you say more to help break this apart–do you work with the International Center at all or are they totally separate entitites?

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