Forward Thinking

Did Open Hillel Just Score a Real Victory?

By Aryeh Younger

  • Print
  • Share Share

Hillel President Eric Fingerhut chats with a student / Flickr: Hillel News and Views

As members of Open Hillel’s steering committee, my fellow organizers and I commend Hillel International’s recent announcement to create the “Hillel International Israel Strategy Committee,” which will review the organization’s current approach to dialogue on Israel and Palestine and make recommendations for improvement. According to a letter written by CEO Eric Fingerhut on Hillel’s website, this committee “will include a diverse group of students from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences.”

This announcement, along with other potentially hopeful ones made by Fingerhut, proves that Hillel International is starting to listen to students’ concerns. Open Hillel’s campaign to change Hillel International’s policies is working. Three college campuses have already declared their Hillels to be “Open,” and several more have issued petitions to change their current policies. Plus, there’s evidence that these Open Hillels have experienced increased attendance at their events because more students now feel welcome.

In addition to participating in Hillel’s Israel Strategy Committee, the Open Hillel campaign is interested in engaging the staff at Hillel International directly. Our goal is not to damage Hillel International, but to make it better. To improve Hillel, all students need to know that they’re welcome regardless of their political beliefs. Open Hillel is not an anti-Zionist organization, and many of its most ardent advocates identify as Zionists. But, Zionist or not, we are united in the belief that open dialogue should be promoted within the Jewish community. And what better place for those discussions to occur than on universities at Hillel, “the foundation for Jewish life on campus?”

As an Orthodox Jew and as a Zionist, I recognize that my voice is only one of many in the American Jewish community. The Open Hillel campaign has given me the ability to interact with Jews with all different types of political opinions. In the future, I hope that similar opportunities will be open to Jews in colleges across the country.

Hillel International’s recent announcements show that its leadership cares about its students, though there’s still a lot of work to be done. Moving forward, it’s critical for Hillel to ensure that the new student committee is genuinely comprised of students with a wide range of political and religious beliefs, in order to guarantee that everyone in our community is represented fairly.

The topic of Israel and Palestine is one of the most contentious foreign policy issues in the world, and it’s perfectly acceptable for younger Jews to hold different opinions on the subject. But by restricting free speech in the Jewish community, Hillel is tragically telling scores of younger Jews that their opinions prevent them from participating in our broader Jewish community. The future of the Jewish people will be determined by the relationship forged between today’s older and younger generations of Jews. For that relationship to be healthy, we need open dialogue on even the most divisive of issues.

While it’s important to recognize Hillel International’s recent call for change as a step in the right direction, the extent of that change is still unknown. The organization now has the opportunity to take the necessary steps to improve its relationship with its student community, which will only happen once it agrees to officially end its discriminatory policies. Until then, Open Hillel will continue its campaign to promote open dialogue within Jewish campus communities around the globe.

Aryeh Younger is Open Hillel’s publications coordinator.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Open Hillel, Israel, Hillel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.