By Wayne L. Firestone
(Jerusalem -- November 17) As I write from the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Jerusalem, three words from Hillel International Board of Governors Chairman Edgar M. Bronfman describe the scene: hope not fear.
Student group Alma Ensemble from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev performs at Hillel dedication ceremony.
These are the three words that Edgar used to encourage Richard M. Joel as they launched Hillel’s renaissance in 1994. They are the title of Edgar’s new book which advocates an optimistic and celebratory approach to Jewish life. And they describe the atmosphere here in Jerusalem where hundreds of Hillel activists have joined with other young people to bring a spirit of energy and excitement to this annual gathering of Jewish leaders. And this is by design. The conference organizer, UJC Senior Vice President Nachman Shai, saw the enthusiasm of Hillel activists at last year’s UJC GA in Nashville and wanted to bring it to Jerusalem.
Hillel is everywhere:
• A UJC GA bus visited Hillels at Sapir College in Sderot -- which is under constant threat of rocket fire -- and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva.
• At the Lion of Judah conference in Tel Aviv on Shabbat, three female Hillel directors – Pnina Gaday of Tel Aviv University Hillel, Inbar Bluzer of Haifa Hillel and Marcia Polisuk of Latin America Hillel – explained how women are playing a major role in engaging Jewish students throughout Hillel.
• Pnina Gaday addressed the 800 young people who participated in the 800-person Next Gen conference that preceded the GA.
• Hillel’s booth in the convention center is educating participants about our 85-year history of Jewish engagement.
• Esther Abramowitz, our director of student programs in Israel, participated on a high-level panel about "Education Toward a Global Perspective" with representatives from JESNA, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Taglit-Birthright Israel and the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education.
• Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life Vice Chairman Adam Bronfman addressed the GA Plenary and explained that Hillel’s vibrant red scarves with the "What’s Your Story" logo are meant to encourage intergenerational and intercultural dialogue among the delegates. The scarves have become a fashion rage in Jerusalem.
• In his opening remarks to the GA, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mentioned Hillel’s presence.
Bronfman and Peres speak at Hebrew University Hillel dedication in Israel.
Yesterday, Israeli President Shimon Peres joined us at the Hebrew University for a ceremony dedicating the Edgar M. Bronfman Hillel Israel Center, our Israel headquarters. Peres praised Hillel and the Bronfman family for their devotion to the Jewish people and the Jewish future.
Edgar responded by saying that when he became the founding chairman of our International Board of Governors, he never expected that Hillel would spread to as many campuses or countries. Hillel now has nine centers in Israel, five in Latin America, 29 in the former Soviet Union, and over 500 in the United States.
Edgar’s modest remarks belie his remarkable commitment to our work. Not only has Edgar devoted a considerable amout of his personal resources to Hillel over the years, he has invested his time: He has visited more than 100 campuses across North America and around the world, talking with students and advocating for Hillel with university faculty and Jewish community leaders. Dedicating our Israel center in his honor is a fitting tribute.
"Hope not fear" is clearly a recipe for success and a message that Hillel is bringing to the GA this week.
Wayne L. Firestone is president of Hillel.