Hillel Guide A Click Away
August 23, 2004Comments (0)
| E-mail this to a friendBy Gabrielle Birkner
For six decades, Hillel's "Guide to Jewish Life on Campus" has been a must-buy for thousands of high school seniors. Now it's a must-click.
Hillel, the world's largest Jewish campus organization, is no longer publishing its popular book for Jewish college applicants. Instead, the guide, which tracks the Jewish population at hundreds of colleges and universities around the world, and details the academic and extracurricular resources offered to Jewish students, is available exclusively online for no fee at Hillel.org.
"Online it's much more user-friendly" and up to date, said Jeff Rubin, a Hillel spokesman.
Visitors to the site – the organization expects about 150,000 college guide hits per month – can search academic institutions by the size of its Jewish population, its Jewish studies course offerings, kosher dining services and Jewish-themed student-interest groups, among other criteria.
Hillel intern Aviva Perlman, 20, a student at American University in Washington, spent countless hours during the past year creating the online database.
Perlman said she wished it had been available when she was applying to college three years ago.
"Things are always changing," said Perlman, a Princeton, N.J., native who noted that Hillels frequently acquire new facilities, hire additional staff or tweak their services. "If Jewish life is a big factor in where you choose to go to school, having the most accurate information can help you pick a school accordingly."
In the process of filtering through the information to develop the site, Perlman said she was surprised by two trends in particular: the range of Jewish-themed on-campus programming, such as Hillel-sponsored theater troupes; and the number of Christian colleges, including California Lutheran and Houston Baptist universities, that are served by Hillels.
Hillel launched its "Guide to Jewish Life on Campus" about 60 years ago at a time when Jews were often kept out of elite academic institutions.
In its early days, the guide was accessed largely by Jewish children of immigrants, many of whom were the first in their families to attend college.
"It informed them which schools and which fraternities were open to them," Rubin said.
In the post-quota world of college admissions – Jewish enrollment at top-tier American universities is about 30 percent, according to statistics provided by Hillel – the guide's purpose is not so weighty.
Instead, it helps Jewish students select a school with the academic, religious and cultural offerings – Orthodox minyan, kosher dining halls, Israeli folk dancing – that fit their respective levels of comfort.
While updating the guide, Rubin observed that Jewish students are attending smaller state colleges as larger state universities become more competitive; there has been a proliferation of Jewish-themed a cappella groups; and Hillel student centers are sprouting up on college campuses with very small Jewish populations.
For example, at North Dakota State University in Fargo, where there are about 10 Jewish students, an on-campus Hillel opened about a year ago. Since then, Hillel participants have organized a Chanukah party, a seder and a gathering on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
"That there are so few Jewish students here is exactly why we need a place to celebrate Jewish life," said Professor Wendy Troop Gordon, the university's Hillel faculty adviser.
When the 14th edition of the "Guide to Jewish Life on Campus" was published in 1999, many baby boomer parents whose children were applying to college were still uncomfortable navigating the Internet. Now more adults are Web savvy, Rubin said, and the time was right for an online guide to supplant the book.
The guide features profiles of 792 colleges and universities in the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Latin America and the former Soviet Union.
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week, August 20, 2004.