Touring the new exhibit on Hillel’s 85-year history in Washington, D.C., Dr. Lou Yuster of Los Angeles made it clear that his life has been bound up with the history of the organization.
A copy of his bar mitzvah invitation is on display in the first cabinet: The service was was held at Penn State Hillel in 1949 and the presiding rabbi was Benjamin Kahn who went on to head the entire Hillel movement and, later, B’nai B’rith. Moving to a historical panel, Yuster points to photographs of former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion speaking to a Hillel-sponsored event at UCLA in 1967. Yuster was there too.
Lobby of Hillel headquarters has been turned into an historic exhibit.
"Hillel has been so much a part of my life, the life of my family and the life of our community," says Yuster. "I am pleased to be able to do my small part today to ensure that it will continue to grow, evolve and serve new generations of students and help provide future leadership for the Jewish community."
Yuster has repayed Hillel many times over for its impact on his life: He has been a member and chairman of the Los Angeles Hillel Council and today he is a member of the Board of Directors of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
Generations of college students have been influenced by Hillel, from new immigrants trying to balance Jewish identity with “Americanism,” to young people with little Jewish background experiencing Jewish celebration for the first time. The exhibit, “Hillel: Engaging from the Start,” documents the encounter of Jewish students with higher education and their identity.
“This exhibit is not the story of the buildings we built or the great leaders who led us. It’s the story of Hillel’s continuing engagement with Jewish college students,” explains Diane Wohl, the chairman of Hillel’s 85 Anniversary Committee. “Hillel is an organization that has always grappled with the most difficult question of its time: how to best secure the Jewish future.”
The 85th Anniversary Committee is collecting memorabilia from Hillels around the world for a gala event in the spring in New York City.
On the opening day of the exhibit, leaders of B’nai B’rith and Hillel joined together in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the two organizations' historic partnership. The leaders unveiled a plaque honoring B’nai B’rith’s role as Hillel’s sponsor from 1924-1994.
B'nai B'rith President Moishe Smith and Hillel Board of Directors Chair Julian Sandler at plaque ceremony.
Only B’nai B’rith had the vision to see the importance of a Jewish outlet for the growing number of students on college campuses,” said Hillel Board of Directors Chairman Julian Sandler. “With B’nai B’rith’s support and guidance, Hillel made an indelible impact on American Jewish life and the Jewish future.”
During 70 years of B’nai B’rith sponsorship, Hillel grew from a single group founded at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1923 to a global campus organization. Hillel separated from B’nai B’rith in 1994. Moishe Smith, president of B’nai B’rith International, said that his organization raised Hillel from birth to adulthood until it “left the nest.”
Addressing Hillel’s Board of Directors, Smith said, “We are happy to see that the child we raised is in good hands.”
Aviva Akselrad Zierler was surprised to see that her recent contribution to Jewish life on campus has been enshrined in Hillel’s archives. Zierler, a graduate of New York University and Temple University Law School, stopped by the Hillel building with her sister while sightseeing Washington prior to joining a local law firm. The songbook she helped to edit in the year 2000 while an undergraduate was included in a display of Hillel publications going back decades.
“I never expected to be part of history,” she said.Washington Jewish Week on Hillel's 85th anniversary exhibit.
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