Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and the World Union of Jewish Students, headquartered in Jerusalem, Israel, have signed an historic Memorandum of Understanding, designed to significantly advance local and global Jewish student identity, activism and community. The Hillel-WUJS MOU brings together two organizations with different approaches to campus activism into a new era of genuine partnership and global collaboration.
“I am thrilled to have had an opportunity to complete my term as Hillel President with the signing of this document,” Avraham Infeld declared during an official ceremony in Jerusalem on June 25. “Jewish students need strong Jewish Student Unions and strong Hillels. The role of Jewish Student Unions is to represent Jewish students on key communal, national and global Jewish issues and to foster the development of Jewish student leaders. The role of Hillel is to serve Jewish students by providing meaningful Jewish experiences and infrastructure designed to strengthen Jewish identity, community and peoplehood.”
Viktoria Dolburd, outgoing WUJS Chairperson, characterized the agreement as “the beginning of a new era in global Jewish student activism.” The two organizations “bring long and distinguished histories and unique and complementary strengths to the table. We look forward to launching new Hillels and JSUs in appropriate communities and countries, to developing common campaigns supporting Israel and opposing anti-Semitism, to coordinating international student conferences and global exchange programs and to collaborating on cutting-edge grant proposals to major funders and foundations.”
Infeld and Dolburd signed the historic document at a plenary session devoted to the subject of partnership during the recent Jewish Agency Assembly in Jerusalem. “We wanted to use this international forum as an opportunity to model the possibilities of partnership,” Infeld maintained.
The document commits WUJS to “encourage and assist the creation of Hillels in appropriate communities and countries where JSUs exist and Hillels do not” and Hillel to “look to established local and national Jewish student unions as key partners in the start-up of new Hillels.” In addition, Hillel agrees to encourage and assist in “the creation of Jewish student unions in appropriate communities and countries where Hillels exist and JSUs do not” with WUJS viewing “Hillel students as a primary source of mainstream student representation.”
Founded in the United States in 1923, Hillel began as a classic campus ministry serving the religious, social, cultural and educational needs of Jewish college and university students living away from home. The core principles of Hillel included a pluralistic vision of Jewish life bridging, where possible, religious, ethnic and political differences and servicing, when not, the needs of multiple denominations and movements. From the beginning, Hillel also valued and developed infrastructure with campus professionals, dedicated facilities and community-supported budgets. Under the aegis of B’nai B’rith and based in Washington, D.C, Hillel grew rapidly during the next half-century and became synonymous with Jewish campus life in the U.S. and to a lesser extent in Canada. Although Hillels emerged in a number of other countries during this period, they played a marginal role in an organization focused nearly exclusively on the American experience.
Established in 1924 with Albert Einstein as its first president, the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) has grown into a vast network of young activists and leaders throughout the world with independent Jewish Student Unions (JSUs) in approximately 50 countries. JSUs work upon the fundamental principle that Jewish student leadership is best placed to understand the needs of, develop the strategies and set the agenda for Jewish students. WUJS promotes the inclusion and representation of Jewish youth within Jewish communities at large and the empowerment of students to become leaders in their communities in order to ensure the future of the Jewish people and meet the needs of a constantly changing world. WUJS provides support and educational assistance to its member unions, facilitates the establishment of new JSUs and promotes a diverse agenda, balanced by support for Israel, opposition to anti-Semitism and dedication to other issues captivating young Jews worldwide. WUJS operates in a non-partisan, pluralistic framework, open to all Jewish students (ages 17-30) regardless of race, gender or socio-economic status.
The relationship between Hillel and WUJS has become closer in recent years. Hillel has become a more global organization with new community-based affiliates in the former Soviet Union and South America and a new direction and emphasis in Israel. In addition, Hillels have become programmatically and professionally more diverse with greater student empowerment, a major engagement orientation and new financial stakeholders. WUJS and member JSUs have come to value the role of infrastructure employing professional administrators and exploring ways to deepen community support and leadership continuity.
Other factors have contributed to a closer relationship between Hillel and WUJS in recent years, including:
•The encouragement of mutual funding partners, such as The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, The Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC and others;
•the vision of key past and current leaders of both organizations as well as of major supporters such as Edgar Bronfman;
•the positive interactions of Hillel and WUJS student leaders and professional staff at international conferences in North America, South America, Europe and Israel;
•the process of establishing national WUJS-affiliates in Uruguay, Canada, and the U.S.; and,
•the growth of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and radical religious and political movements in numerous countries and regions.