Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life

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Current logo of National Hillel

Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life (or simply known as Hillel International) is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, working with thousands of college students globally. Hillel's stated mission is "to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world."[1] In practical terms, campus Hillel foundations engage Jewish students in religious, cultural, artistic, and community-service activities. Currently, Hillel is represented at more than 550 colleges and communities throughout North America and globally, including 30 communities in the former Soviet Union, nine in Israel, and five in South America.[2] The organization is named for Hillel the Elder, a Jewish sage who moved from Babylonia to Palestine in the 1st century and is known for his formulation of the Golden Rule.

History

Rutgers Hillel

The Hillel Foundation was founded in 1923 at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign by members of the local Jewish and university communities. It later came under the sponsorship of B'nai Brith, which served as the sponsoring organization until the 1990s. By then, it encompassed 120 Hillel foundations and affiliates at an additional 400 campuses. The campus foundations seek to create a welcoming environment for Jewish students on their respective campuses. Beginning in 1988, under Director Richard M. Joel, Hillel underwent an organizational shift in mission and structure.[3] An integral part of this shift was the institution of a Board of Governors, chaired by Edgar M. Bronfman until 2009 when he was succeeded by Randall Kaplan. The subsequent revitalization of the organization resulted in increased donor support, updated programming and broad international recognition. Today, Hillel is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. Hillel foundations are found in Israel, South America, and the Post-Soviet States, and affiliated organizations are found in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Prior to the Hillel Foundation's national organization in 1923, Texas A&M Hillel was founded in 1920. At the time of its founding, Texas A&M University was named the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas.[4][5]

Hillel International Directors

  • Rabbi Benjamin Frankel 1925 - 1927
  • Dr. Louis L. Mann 1928 - 1933
  • Dr. Abram L. Sachar 1933 - 1947
  • Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld 1947 - 1956
  • Dr. Judah J. Shiapiro 1956 - 1959
  • Rabbi Benjamin M. Kahn 1959 - 1971
  • Rabbi Alfred Jospe 1971 - 1975
  • Rabbi Norman Frimer 1975 - 1979
  • Rabbi Oscar Groner 1979 - 1984
  • Larry Moses 1984 - 1987
  • Richard M. Joel 1988 - 2003[6]
  • Avraham Infeld 2003-2005
  • Wayne L. Firestone 2005–present[7]

Services

Hillel is not a membership organization. Any interested student may participate in their activities, usually free of charge. Most activities are free of charge and other fees may be waived because of need. Hillel's strategy, as redefined in 2006, explicitly set a goal to "inspire every Jewish student to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life." To be effective, Hillel activities vary from campus to campus, with an emphasis on responding to the needs of participating students. To reach a larger audience, campus Hillel foundations struggle to create a pluralistic, inclusive environment that still remains distinctively Jewish. To do so, the national foundation organizes trips to Israel,[8] places service fellows at the campus foundations[9], creates a guide to Jewish student life[10], and leads advocacy work on Jewish and Israeli issues[[11], as well as providing some financial support to its campus foundations.

Hillel is also dedicated to social activism, fundraising and philanthropy for charitable causes. These activities are usually led on the local campus level, but many campuses participate in alternative spring break trips dedicated to service, a Yom Kippur Fast Action Campaign, and the Oxfam Fair Trade Coffee Campaign, as well as more traditional local service projects at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and Jewish community organizations.

Hillel Houses in the United Kingdom

As of March 2007, there are official Hillel Houses in the cities of Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and York.

Hillel House in Manchester

The Hillel House in Manchester, which used to be located in converted terraced-house accommodation in Grafton Street, Rusholme, and is now in purpose-built premises in Hulme, has recently been renovated and is now a state-of-the-art residence for anyone wishing to study in the local universities (including Manchester University, UMIST and the Metropolitan University of Manchester). It serves as the meeting place and headquarters of the local Jewish Society and Israel Society.

Hillel House in Leeds

Hillel House in Leeds is home to Leeds Jewish Society[12], one of the leading J-Soc's in the UK. The Hillel Student Centre is the flagship Hillel run student house. It is kitted out with plasma televisions, a shul which is home to the Leeds Student Minyan, as well as a quiet study area. There is also a cafe where kosher lunch is served for students. The centre has been run for many years with dedication by Charles Ross, a Leeds resident.

Praise and Awards

The Hillel Foundation has received numerous praise and awards over the years. One example is from March 2011, the Hillel Organization was a recipient of one of the first nine grants from the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund, a pilot program of the Jim Joseph, Righteous Persons, and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. The fund provides a total of $500,000 in grants and technical support to digital media projects designed to engage 18-40 year olds in Jewish life, learning, culture and community.[13] Investment analyst David Cohen said in a 2006 fundraiser “We [Cohen and his wife] believe that Hillel is perhaps the organization in the Jewish community best equipped to educate the next generation. No other group so fully embraces the entire community the way Hillel does: kosher or not; observant or not; religious or not; Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Orthodox — just Jewish."[14]

Local branches and staff members that are part of the greater Hillel Organization are often recipients of both Jewish and non-denominational awards. As an example, in 2010, Bernard Steinberg, President and Director of Harvard Hillel received a 2010 Covenant Foundation Award for excellence in teaching.[15] In 2008, the University of Kansas Hillel was named "KU Student Organization of the Year" out of more than 500 student clubs for the second year in a row.[16] In 2007, Hillel at Virginia Tech received the University and Community Partnership Award for offering "students the means to explore and celebrate their Jewish identity in a dynamic and comfortable environment".[17]

Criticism

Most of Hillel's activities differ little from other mainstream campus ministries or ethnic organizations. However, some of Hillel's policies, actions, and leaders have come under criticism. Hillel's use of the motto "Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel" has been criticized as alienating to Jewish students who do not adhere to Zionism, as well as attaching political ideology to an otherwise religious group.[18] At the same time, others have claimed that some Hillels are being used by pro-Palestinian activists to promote their own political goals.[19]

Another criticism has been the monopolistic tactics that the group is alleged to have used to assume primacy over the Jewish campus scene.[20][21] In its attempts to reach out to all Jewish students, some believe Hillel's activities are too broad. In 1997, Jeremy Deutchman, a graduate of Hillel's JCSC fellowship and a student member of Hillel's board of directors, wrote a lengthy article in Tikkun asserting that Hillel engaged in the wholesale "dumbing down" of Judaism, and providing stylish, yet meaningless Judaism instead of substantive Judaism.[22] He echoes a common criticism of the Non-profit organization sector, arguing that the organization had become overly donor-driven, and had hence compromised Judaic quality.

Former Hillel president Avraham Infeld was challenged in traditional circles for asserting that Hillel accepts intermarriage (marriage of Jews to non-Jews).[23]

There have also been some controversies involving individual Hillel directors.

  • UCLA Hillel rabbi and director Chaim Seidler-Feller was accused by journalist Rachel Neuwirth of verbally and physically assaulting her on the UCLA campus in October 2003. Eyewitness accounts were contradictory, with some indicating Neuwirth did not provoke the incident,[24] but others indicating that she had.[25] After more than three years of litigation, in a legal settlement, Seidler-Feller provided Neuwirth with a letter of apology accepting full responsibility for the attack on Neuwirth and a large financial arrangement with her.[26]
  • Robert Fishman, director of George Washington University's Hillel apologized for claiming that a pro-Palestinian law student was a recognized terrorist.[27] Fishman also orchestrated a group of Hillel members to read highly critical questions pre-drafted by Deborah Lipstadt as if they were their own to President Jimmy Carter who spoke on campus in March 2007. This and their tactics of blocking the microphones from other students gave the media the false impression that the audience was critical of Carter despite repeated standing ovations.[28]

Branches

Branches include:

See also

References

  1. Hillel's mission statement on its "about" page
  2. facts about Hillel from their own webpage
  3. The Remaking of Hillel: A Case Study on Leadership and Organizational Transformation
  4. From Christian Science to Jewish Science: Spiritual Healing and American Jews Oxford University Press page 160
  5. Gabrielle Birkner (2005-05-06). "A Cushy Fit In Bush Country". The Jewish Week. Archived from the original on May 16, 2005. http://web.archive.org/web/20050516092959/http://jewishweek.org/news/newscontent.php3?artid=10860. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  6. http://www.hillel.org/NR/rdonlyres/C5146418-3638-435A-8BB9-24592F5500F9/0/hillel_history.pdf
  7. Leadership Profiles: Wayne Firestone
  8. Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel Trip
  9. Careers with Hillel
  10. Hillel's Guide to Jewish Life on Campus
  11. http://www.israeloncampuscoalition.org
  12. Leeds JSoc
  13. Official Announcement
  14. As quoted in "Forward"
  15. Covenant Organization
  16. Official Kansas University Hillel Webpage
  17. Virginia Tech News
  18. Jewish Week: "Was University of Richmond’s student Hillel leader fired for her political beliefs?"
  19. Israelnationalnews.com: "The Jewish Academy of Chelm: Hillel in America"
  20. New Voices: Lights Inactive - The death of a Jewish student organization
  21. Hillel.org: "Student Presidents Represent Hillel at WUJS Congress"
  22. Tikkun: "Hillel Incorporated: The Franchising of Modern American Jewry"
  23. Faith in Nathan: "Maybe we shouldn’t fight intermarriage after all"
  24. Think Israel "...What's Going on At UCLA Hillel?"
  25. Jewish Journal: "Seidler-Feller Denies Kicking Journalist"
  26. Jewish Journal: "UCLA Hillel rabbi apologizes, settles 2003 case with woman journalist"
  27. Washington Jewish Week: "Hillel director backs off accusations against student"
  28. http://www.forward.com/articles/10400/ Jewish Daily Forward: "Hillel Director Students Defend Tactics at Carter Speech"

External links