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Famed Jewish History Professor Jonathan Sarna writes about Hillel at 85 in JTA

by Anonymous |Jun 10, 2009|Comments

JTA: The Global News Service of the Jewish People

Op-Ed: At 85, Hillel mission remains vital

By Jonathan D. Sarna May 27, 2009

WALTHAM, Mass. (JTA) -- Eighty-five years ago, in 1924, two wealthy and accomplished Jewish college students, Nathan F. Leopold and Richard A. Loeb, motivated by Nietzchean philosophy and determined to commit the "perfect crime," brutally murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago.

Shocked B'nai B'rith leaders in Mobile, Ala., wrote to the national secretary of B'nai B'rith, Leon Lewis, expressing interest in the case and wondering what the Jewish organization's response would be. The answer, in one word, was "Hillel."

The new campus organization, whose establishment Lewis characterized as "almost providential," would henceforward provide Jewish students with precisely the kind of initiation into Jewish communal life that Leopold and Loeb never had. Wisely, B'nai B'rith adopted Hillel in 1925 and sponsored the organization for nearly 70 years.

Hillel, which continues its 85th anniversary year celebrations this summer, began independently in 1923 at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and focused from the start on winning over assimilated Jewish college students.

"In an age when students protest against the establishment, Hillel is the symbol of the establishment," Rabbi Edward Feld, then Hillel director at the University of Illinois, complained.

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