This week and last, Jewish Week writers explored the impact of Hillel, the Jewish student organization, at campuses in places like North Dakota and Texas, where Jews make up a tiny percentage of the student body. But Hillel's emphasis on becoming a dynamic and pluralistic presence can also have a dramatic effect at universities with a substantial Jewish population, as I saw at a recent luncheon at the Cornell Club in Midtown.
Jeffrey Lehman, Cornell Class of 1977, spoke there of leading the kiddush at a Shabbat dinner on the upstate Ithaca campus earlier this year for 1,100 students. (According to estimates, about 3,500 of Cornell's 16,000 students are Jewish.) Lehman called the Shabbat dinner "an extraordinary experience" and not at all representative of the Hillel he remembered when he was a student. That Hillel, he said diplomatically, "played a vital role in the lives of a few people."
Indeed, for many years the Hillel on many campuses was an oasis for observant students, a place to pray and eat kosher meals, but rarely set foot in by others.
Read the full story >>>