Optimism is the Hillel response to an age of economic constraint, according to Hillel’s current and former presidents.
Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, and Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone speak at a forum moderated by Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, dean of the Boston Hebrew College Rabbinical School, at the Samuel Bronfman Foundation on May 12.
In a forum sponsored by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone and former president Richard M. Joel, the president of Yeshiva University, agreed that the downturn in the economy should not dampen hope for the Jewish future. “I am not frightened for the future,” said Firestone. “I am betting on this generation of students.”
“Hillel is always a place of optimism because we work with young people,” Joel added.
The forum “Renaissance in the Age of Ration” was the culminating event of the Bronfman foundation’s 2009 Why Be Jewish? Gathering. The discussion was moderated by Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, dean of the Boston Hebrew College Rabbinical School.
The panel engaged in a dialogue on how college campuses can serve as incubators for supporting and revitalizing the Jewish community of tomorrow, highlighting steps to further Jewish renaissance in this challenging economic environment.
“This is not the worst time the Jewish people has experienced,” Joel asserted. “Yes, many people have lost money, but there is still money out there. The question is not whether we have the money to succeed, but whether we have the will. We should not curse the darkness but welcome the light.”
The educators agreed that this generation of students is seeking to make a difference with their lives. “These young people are proud of their Jewish identity but they don’t know what it means,” said Firestone. “They are searchers. As a community we can grow and learn along with these searchers.”
He added that “wholesale messaging” about positive Jewish identity does not work, but “peer-to-peer engagement” does.
Hillel International Board of Governors Chair Edgar M. Bronfman called on Hillel to continue to work hard to engage Jewish students because “today all Jews are Jews by choice.”