Sex ed was one of the most popular programs offered by Hillel at the University of Wisconsin – in 1928.
A recent document found in Hillel’s archives shows that the first professionals in the Hillel movement struggled with the same student apathy and lack of Jewish background that have continued to bedevil campus workers until today.
The document, a transcript of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Commission from May 7, 1928, features Hillel directors from the University of Illinois, The Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Michigan. Hillel was founded at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1923 and was adopted by B’nai B’rith in 1924. The Commission meeting took place in the wake of the tragic death a year earlier of Hillel founder and national director, Rabbi Benjamin Frankel, who died at age 30 of endocarditis.
The Commission transcript offers a candid assessment of Hillel – and Jewish college students – on the eve of the Great Depression. While Hillel has grown from a mere five campuses in 1928 – a fifth Hillel had begun in California – to over 500 today, its challenges and successes are remarkably familiar to contemporary readers.
Here are some highlights:
“The matter of Sunday religious services have not been nearly as successful as I wish for… If I were a student at the University of Michigan, having the average background of the average student, I doubt very seriously whether I should be attracted to religious services.”
“The average student is sick and tired of hearing about the glorious past of our people. He wants to have definite advice as to sex morality, about Jewish home life, his attitude toward his girl, etc. Unless we can give him that conception, make him understand that any sort of Jew is accepted, that we do not classify the Jews as Orthodox or Reform, then we have failed.”
As the number of Jewish students on campuses has grown over the years, so has Hillel’s budget. The 1927-1928 budget was just $87,895. Hillel’s global fiscal 2008 budget was $90 million.
Read the full report:
B’nai B’rith Hillel Commission (PDF File 2Mb)
[Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader version 4.0 or higher.]
Additional documents from Hillel history may be found here.