One Year Later, Open Hillel Continues to Define Its Space on Campus

It has been a year since Swarthmore Hillel declared themselves an Open Hillel, a decisive break from international guidelines. On Wednesday, December 3rd, Hillel hosted a discussion about what has happened since their declaration, what being an Open Hillel looks like, and what campus discussions about Israel and Palestine can be.

Joshua Wolfsun ‘16, Swarthmore Hillel’s Israel and Palestine Programming Coordinator, said that Hillel is “entering a new chapter, in terms of our programming […] and what we’re going to do. We’ve put a lot of thought into it, and we’re ready to talk to the community about it.” Now that the group has become more established, he said, he hopes the community can come together and explore what it means to be an Open Hillel, “rather than just asserting the fact that we are one.”

Just under 20 students attended Wednesday’s meeting. Some were freshmen, but there were also a number of upperclassmen and people outside the campus Jewish community. The discussion aimed to be an informational session for those who are not familiar with Open Hillel and a discussion of how it fits into the mosaic of groups that address Israel and Palestine on campus.

The meeting began with an ice breaking exercise where students introduced themselves and filled in gaps in statements such as “When I talk about Israel/Palestine, I worry that people think ____ about my beliefs.” Students used these statements as a starting point to share both positive and negative stories about their experiences in discussions on Israel and Palestine. This segued into a discussion on what kind of space Swarthmore Hillel is trying to build for conversations on campus.

Wolfsun acknowledged that these conversations are not always easy. “Up to this point, conversations in the Jewish community […] around Israel/Palestine generally don’t go so well,” said Wolfsun. “We’re not so good at talking about it. Yet.”

“It was very hard to figure out the right way to do this,” said Wolfsun. “It was very easy to figure out many many ways to do it wrong.” It would be easy to bring in, for lack of a better word, the most extreme views and have a lively discussion, he said, but it might not be very productive.

Wolfsun said Hillel’s ultimate aim is to “build a culture of resilient listening,” where people can engage with opinions very different from their own, while being able to respectfully challenge those views as well. Meeting attendees did caution against calls for dialogue at Swarthmore that are used as a tactic to slow down effective action. “It’s not like we only want people to sit and discuss,” Wolfsun said, “We want people to be out there working […] then at Hillel we can come back together […] and grow and learn.”

In the coming semester, Open Hillel hopes to hear from students about what they want Israel and Palestine programming on campus to look like. While there are not yet official plans for events and speakers, Wolfsun said that Swarthmore can expect programming that allows people to “vehemently disagree, and grow, and listen.” “These can often be difficult discussions,” he said, “but they can be worthwhile discussions and fruitful discussions. I think we have an immense amount to learn from each other.”

Image courtesy of nytimes.com


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Allison Hrabar

Allison is double major in Political Science (Honors) and Film and Media Studies. When not working for The Daily Gazette, she cajoles people into watching the The Americans (Wednesdays at 10:00p.m. on FX).

2 comments

  1. 0
    Gene St.Onge says:

    Open Hillel will serve as the beginning of liberation from the false narrative you’ve been taught about the history of the Jewish people, in general, and that of the state of Israel, in particular. At the end of this journey you may lose the ‘tribe’ but gain the world, and your life will be much better for it.

    Best of luck to you all!

  2. 0
    question says:

    Will there be equal funding from Hamas, for Hillel overhead and expenses?

    As per Hamas law, all gays will need to be banned from discussions at Hillel, and women required to wear burqas in the spirit of alliance with Hamas. Women should not be allowed to run in public at Swarthmore, and can only read certain coursebooks not banned by Hamas. Only women can teach female students and men can only teach male students. Then all participants can know what it is like to live under a totalitarian state of law under Hamas in Gaza.

    Please look this up, these are all laws in Gaza per Hamas, the group that the “Palestinian” student groups support wholeheartedly. Hamas leaders are proud of these laws!

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