By Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone
Israeli university presidents and Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone meet at the GA.
Hillel's red scarves with the "What's Your Story" logo may go down in UJC GA history as one of the most popular giveaway items ever. And it wasn’t just because of the quality of the stitching.
Participants clamored for the scarves because they provided an invitation to share their Jewish story with participants of any age or background. Young people chatted with veteran philanthropists. Israelis met with Americans. The red scarf became a symbol of the intergenerational exchange that was so much a part of Hillel’s presence in Jerusalem this week, from the opening words of Prime Minister Olmert, to a final luncheon with Israeli university presidents.
Soon after the conclusion of the GA, International Board of Governors Chairman Edgar M. Bronfman hosted an intimate reception for 10 Israeli university presidents at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The presidents each acknowledged that Israel’s educational system may have equipped young people to excel at their professional studies, but it did not imbue them with a connection to their Jewish identity or the Jewish people. The presidents are now turning to Hillel to provide their students with the Jewish identity education that they lack, and which is so crucial to the cohesion of the State of Israel.
I came away from my week in Jerusalem more proud than ever of the contribution that Hillel is making to the lives of individual Jewish students and to the global Jewish people. We are treated with respect by everyone from President Shimon Peres, to philanthropists, to students from Israel and North America.
Here is what one GA participant wrote to me: "Every time I saw a red scarf in the crowd, I felt like smiling. If I needed any further proof of the vitality of Hillel, it came in the form of the realization that the students who pass through Hillel’s doors (or campus Starbuckses, or tables on the Quad, or wherever) get something at Hillel that they aren't getting anywhere else, and that something may very well be what determines the nature of their -- and our collective -- Jewish identity. It's an awesome responsibility, but one that Hillel carries out with skill and pride because there's simply no one else out there who can have the same effect on students' lives."
More GA Coverage