Posted by: Jeff Rubin, Associate Vice President for Communications on 4/8/2008 4:40:00 PM
The recent JTA article on non-Jews participating in Hillel activities has stimulated a remarkable amount of interest and discussion, online and in the real world, among Hillel professionals, stakeholders and community members. The article created the misconception that, somehow, Hillel had shifted its focus from Jewish college students to the campus in general. This is just not the case. Hillel today is more committed than ever to engaging Jewish students and achieving its mission: “to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world.”
After years of hard work and planning, Hillel’s substance is appreciated by everyone on campus, Jews and non-Jews alike, and enriches the entire university community. Indeed, Hillel programs are not only compelling to Jewish college students, they are contributing to their campuses and to the world at large. The “Ask Big Questions” program at Northwestern University, in which the entire campus contemplates existential questions, is rooted in the traditional Jewish approach to learning, dialogue and debate. At the University of Michigan, Hillel is helping the university to understand the power of the “chevruta,” the Jewish tradition of studying -- and debating -- in pairs. At the University of Florida, the Hillel rabbi lectures on Jewish law at the law school. At Loyola of Chicago, Hillel convenes numerous programs that bring together Jews and non-Jews to serve the entire community. Tufts Hillel recently secured a $1.6 million grant that not only benefits its own campus, but contributes to four other campuses as well. The list could go on and on.
Last Sunday, the Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh sponsored the Campus SuperStar program which was developed by the Hillels of Georgia. Through this program a contest is held to select the best student vocalist in the city. The program boosts the careers of participants, generates tremendous good will for Hillel, and raises funds for Hillel’s ongoing operations. It should not surprise us that Hillel professionals and student activists are taking the lead on their campuses: Hillel invests tremendous resources in their recruitment, training and ongoing development. Hillel activists and professionals are recognized as campus-wide assets and leaders -- not as off-campus guests.
We can take pride in the fact that our best ambassadors are our students. After participating in Taglit-Birthright Israel, alternative spring break programs, or numerous on-campus activities, these young people are so turned on by their Jewish identity that they are inviting their friends to events -- who sometimes happen to come from different backgrounds and faiths.
During our Strategic Planning process we learned that 88 percent of Jewish students want Hillels to be welcoming environments for all Jews regardless of their background, and 86 percent want Hillels to be welcoming to everyone on their campus. In order to accomplish this, Hillels have lowered our barriers to involvement while intensifying our commitment to Jewish education and learning. We have made high Jewish content accessible to Jews with little background. For example, we offer service-learning projects that satisfy the interests of today’s millennial students while emphasizing the Jewish concept of social justice.
At the same time, we recognize that we must deepen the Jewish education of our students. We recently received the largest single donation in our history from the Jim Joseph Foundation, $10.7 million, to expand our E3 program, which is a cadre of skilled Jewish educators. E3 and the Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative specifically target Jewish students for meaningful Jewish experiences. After all, our vision is to inspire every Jewish student to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life.
Hillel’s problem is as old as the Jewish people. The Torah, our original Strategic Plan, sets out our mission as a people: We are called upon to be “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). In other words, it is our obligation to be both exemplars to the nations of the world and separated from them -- thus our commitment to balancing being "distinctively Jewish and universally human." What a compelling goal! And what a joy that at campus after campus we are advancing this mission.
RE: Hillel's Mission: Jewish Students
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