Swarthmore Hillel Got It Right

In the many debates over Swarthmore Hillel’s changes, critics contend that the process of opening Swarthmore Hillel and ultimately ending its affiliation with Hillel International has been a political one that marginalizes the voices of many Jewish students. Of course, the other side to this statement is that before it became open, Hillel was an apolitical organization that did not marginalize the voices of Jewish students. This is completely false, and a number of students at last Monday’s meeting expressed how it was only after Swarthmore Hillel became open that they felt welcome.

Hillel International does not encourage a safe space for all Jewish students; instead, it explicitly forbids the expression of political beliefs held by many Jews while claiming its own particular version of Jewish identity as the only one. When Hillel International forced Swarthmore Hillel to choose between leaving Hillel and a lawsuit, Swarthmore Hillel correctly left an organization that excludes many Jewish students.

Before I continue further, I would like to describe my own background. First, I have not been particularly involved with Swarthmore Hillel. Second, my mother is Jewish while my father is not, and we did not attend a congregation throughout my childhood. I am very proud of my Jewish background, but it coexists with multiple other facets of my identity. I do not think this disqualifies me from speaking about Hillel and Jewish identity, but I thought I should make clear the angle I am coming from.

Additionally, while my particular relationship with Jewish identity may be unique, its complexity is not. Jewish students define their Jewish identities in a multitude of ways, and it is the role of the Jewish campus organization to accept and welcome all students who want to be Jewish regardless of how they choose to be Jewish. Hillel International does not permit this.

In last Friday’s edition of The Daily Gazette, Nat Frum and Jessica Seigel’s piece “A Response to the Hillel Naming Decision” argued against the opening of Hillel. One of their central arguments is that “Open Hillel at Swarthmore has been so purely political that the needs of the religious and cultural Jewish community have not been met.” First, this strikes me as a very selective reading of Swarthmore Open Hillel’s activities. It has held Shabbat dinner every Friday and holds additional events for holidays, and by the end of this year it will have only had five political events in a year and a half as an Open Hillel.

Additionally, the authors also overlook that Swarthmore Hillel could not be an apolitical organization as long as it followed Hillel International’s Israel guidelines. Hillel International’s guidelines are based around the clearly political view that “Hillel is steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders,” and they also contain further provisions that stifle criticism of Israeli policies.  Hillel International feels so strongly about its political stances that it prefers Swarthmore’s Jewish students to not be a part of Hillel than to allow an invited Jewish speaker to present political views outside Hillel’s guidelines. It strikes me as odd that Open Hillel is being criticized as excessively political when the entire process of becoming open was based upon the elimination of political requirements. While Zionist students have every right to complain if their views are marginalized in Open Hillel, that it allows the presence of opposing voices cannot be seen as such.

An Open Hillel — or Kehilah, as Swarthmore Hillel is now called — could take the form of a completely apolitical organization, where it has no political affiliation and politics are not discussed. However, an Open Hillel could also actively engage with politics from a Jewish perspective, while not holding any explicit political views itself. This is the route Swarthmore Hillel has taken, and this option also requires a break with Hillel International. Although it is still primarily a religious and cultural group, it has also held political events related to Israel and Palestine. While these events have been criticized for being disproportionately “anti-Israel,” this sort of thinking excessively separates political beliefs into a pro- or anti-Israel dichotomy, where legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies are typically seen as maliciously anti-Israel.

Furthermore, despite Nat Frum and Jessica Seigel’s allegation that Open Hillel is an exclusively anti-Zionist enterprise, many members of Swarthmore Hillel and its board are Zionists of varying political beliefs. Joe Boninger’s article in Monday’s edition of The Daily Gazette provides just one example of how Zionist Swarthmore students can support Open Hillel. Swarthmore Hillel’s invited speakers, too, do not just push an anti-Zionist agenda; in fact, the majority of them are Zionists. The premise of  an Open Hillel is not that Zionist ideas are wrong and anti-Zionist ones are right; rather, it is that no idea can be deemed correct solely by being the only one on offer.

I feel that Swarthmore Open Hillel’s approach of allowing its members to engage with politics without the organization itself holding political views is a better reflection of the full range of Jewish identities. For me, my grandparents’ Holocaust experiences are the central part of my Jewish identity. The lessons of the Holocaust, including the need to protect all people’s rights and the dangers of restrictive ethnic nationalism, influence my political beliefs in a number of contexts beyond just Israel.  However, they have also led me away from Zionism. I do not think in any way that Israel’s actions can be equated with the Holocaust, and I realize the Holocaust causes many people to come to the opposite conclusion.

Nevertheless, my Jewish background leads me to these political beliefs. My Jewish identity is primarily exercised politically, and at last Monday’s meeting a number of students also expressed the importance of politics, especially regarding Israel, to their Jewish identity. Many students choose to express their Jewish identity religiously and culturally. Swarthmore Hillel should absolutely provide a space for this, but to restrict Hillel to a solely religious and cultural space excludes those who would like to express their Jewish identity in a wider range of forms. Open Hillel has made the necessary choice to not prescribe to particular political beliefs, as Hillel International does, but its choice to engage with politics is in no way in opposition to its mission to provide a Jewish space on campus. While the transition has had difficulties, as would any organization going through such an uncertain change, Swarthmore Hillel has made an admirable effort to provide for all Swarthmore’s Jewish students since it became an Open Hillel.

Implicit in the defenses of Hillel International is a specific view of what it means to be Jewish. This view requires, at the very least, Zionist political beliefs, and it often includes a disdain for criticism of Israeli policies even when the critics still support Israel as a Jewish state. Those who do not hold these political beliefs are often seen as not truly Jewish. This view ignores the long history of Jewish contention over the legitimacy of Zionism. My grandfather, a survivor of Buchenwald, was one such case. While he did not call for the abolition of Israel, he did not support its founding, and under Hillel International’s guidelines he would not have been allowed to speak. Supporters of Hillel International may argue that they want a safe, pluralistic environment for Jewish students, but they only really want this space to be available to Jewish students who fit the limited range of political beliefs they deem properly Jewish. I am glad that Swarthmore Kehilah welcomes me, even if Hillel International won’t.

37 comments

    1. 0
      so says:

      david spalter, what’s done is done. swarthmore doesn’t have a hillel anymore and it is called swarthmore kehilah. it doesn’t use the hillel name. why are you still here? (go away)

  1. 0
    David Spalter says:

    Yes, Elizabeth, I did read the article, and I am very familiar with Open Hillel.

    Its really a simple dispute. Hillel won’t put its name or resources behind BDS proponents. Open Hillel wants to change that. Its really not hard to see where their motivation lies.

    And, no Swarthmore students DO NOT get to dictate campus Jewish programming UNDER HILLEL’S NAME. That’s the point. Go ahead and form your own Jewish organizations that promote the BDS agenda if that’s what you wish to do. Just don’t expect Hillel to support you.

    1. 0
      Elizabeth says:

      Changing the name of the campus Jewish student group is exactly what the Jewish students at Swarthmore have done.

      I see that you went to Tufts University, which has more than 10,000 students. Swarthmore College is roughly a tenth that size. Size matters, in ways I didn’t understand until I went to graduate school at a large research university and noticed some of the more subtle differences between a small college and a big university.

      At larger universities, there are separate Jewish student communities for daily prayer, Shabbat observance with guitars, Shabbat observance with gender separation, pro-Israel programming, etc. At Swarthmore, there’s really just one student-run Jewish community, which serves whatever roles matter most to the current students.

      At larger universities, the “pro-Israel” students and the “pro-BDS” students can live separate lives, eating in separate places, and only interacting at protests, counter-protests, heated student council meetings to debate resolutions, and the like.

      At Swarthmore, there’s one dining hall, and if a Jewish student leader isn’t living on the same hallway as a pro-BDS leader, one’s roommate will be the other’s lab partner in Chemistry class, or in the same 10 person Economics discussion group, or somesuch. This completely changes the dynamic. For a “pro-Israel” student at Swarthmore, the “pro-BDS” student is someone they know personally. Students (sometimes) listen to views with which they disagree. And when it makes sense to them, they’ll partner to bring in a speaker that both want to hear.

      This is fundamental to the Swarthmore experience.

      1. 0
        David Spalter says:

        To be accurate, Tufts had about 5,000 undergraduates when I went there.

        To your point, though, you keep avoiding the point. Hillel is a large, international, private organization. It has the right to make its own rules and guidelines. If that does not work for a group of Jewish students, then they can form their own pro-BDS organization (i.e. JVP).

        They can also attend Hillel events and focus on the non-political aspects of Jewish life.

        What they can’t do, as “Open Hillel” has learned, is schedule Hillel-sponsored events that claim to be about “Civil Rights” but, in reality, are designed to promote the BDS agenda.

  2. 0
    Elizabeth says:

    David,

    Did you read the article? Whatever you think about Open Hillel as a movement, it was started when Harvard Hillel was prevented by Hillel guidelines from hosting a speech by Avrum Berg, former head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, because of the objectionable positions of the co-sponsoring student organizations. Let me rephrase that: Hillel was unable to host a former head of the Jewish Agency for Israel because students who support BDS were interested in hearing him speak.

    I don’t know how many students support any piece of the Open Hillel agenda–but I don’t believe you do either. I graduated from Swarthmore a long time ago. Do you really have any idea how many students do or do not support any part of the Open Hillel agenda at your alma matter?

    At Swarthmore, students DO get to dictate campus Jewish programming. What I learned from my fellow students around the Shabbat dinner table at Swarthmore influences my life, and my children’s lives, many years later. I hope the decisions made by current Jewish students at Swarthmore helps their community thrive, so that current and future students can benefit from this community as I did.

    And now, back to my Passover cleaning…

  3. 0
    David Spalter says:

    Elizabeth,

    “Ardent Zionists” don’t support BDS. BDS is a movement dedicated to the elimination of the Jewish State.

    Hillel, like any organization, has limited resources. As a pro-Israel organization, it chooses not to use those resources to provide a platform for anti-Israel speakers. It also chooses not to partner with organzations (i.e. SJP) that defame, demonize and advocate for the elimination of the Jewish State.

    Those who are pushing the “Open Hillel” agenda fail to see the obvious. They are a mere vocal minority among Jewish students. Despite this, they presume that a significant number of Jewish students want to hear anti-Israel speakers have their say at Hillel events. I see no evidence of that, whatsoever.

    Hillel is a home for Jewish students everywhere. All students are welcome, regardless of their level of religious observance or their political views. That does not mean that students get to dictate Hillel programming.

    Hillel won’t be hosting Jews for Jesus functions.
    Hillel won’t be serving baby back ribs at its Seder.
    Hillel won’t present speakers to advocate for the agendas of Hamas, the KKK, the Neo-Nazi party, or the BDS movement.
    Hillel won’t partner with vile organizations like SJP, which routinely bully Zionist students and their guests at universities.

    If you can’t accept these lines, then I guess Hillel isn’t the place for you.

  4. 0
    Elizabeth says:

    Dear David,

    You are suggesting that young Jews not only care about Israel and support the continued existence of a Jewish state (I agree with you on this point), but also do not want to hear any discussion with people who disagree. I believe that there are many young Jews who support the continued existence of a Jewish state, and ALSO want to be able to hear discussions with people who do not hold this view.

    To give a fictitious example, I believe most college Hillels would be delighted to cosponsor an event at which both Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi spoke about the history of the Oslo Accords. However, no college Hillel would be able to co-sponsor such an event with another campus group if the other group supported BDS.

    Let’s be clear about the speakers who have been barred from co-sponsored events by Hillel policies. These speakers include ardent Zionists.

    Please take a look at http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2013/11/26/hillel-speaker-open-policy/
    and
    https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/01/11/im-now-another-jew-who-has-been-barred-from-speaking-within-a-jewish-building-in-america/

  5. 0
    David Spalter says:

    Elizabeth,

    Let’s be clear here. The vast majority of Jews, including students, support Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish State. That does not mean that people who support Israel can’t be critical of its policies.

    The problem with “Open Hillel” is not that it wishes to bring in people who are critical of Israel. The problem is that it wishes to bring in people who think that Israel should not exist. That is where the line is crossed, and Hillel – as it has the right to do as a private organization – enforces its policies.

    People like Timmy claim that this makes them feel unwelcome, but the reality is, they are entirely welcome to attend Hillel programs and to express their views.

    If you’re looking for evidence, looke at Birthright’s numbers. Approximately 400,000 students have gone on their trips to Israel. I think its safe to say that the majority of those students believe that Israel should continue to exist as a Jewish State.

    If you prefer a poll, here is a link to an interesting, though somewhat flawed poll:
    http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/chapter-5-connection-with-and-attitudes-towards-israel/

    It found that 81% of Jews ages 18-29 believed that caring about Israel is an important (49%), if not essential (32%) part of being Jewish.

  6. 0
    Tushar Kundu '17 says:

    David, I think you may be misunderstanding Timmy’s point.

    Hillel’s pro-Israel agenda is not what is offensive, it is the explicit barring of opposing voices. It seems that you are implying that if one does not share your Zionist viewpoint, that individual is either not truly Jewish (thereby defining what it means to be Jewish) or that he/she should remain quiet since you deem their opinions “highly offensive”.

    At the very least doesn’t it seem contradictory that you say if “Hillel’s pro-Israel stance offends you that’s your problem” yet you say that Timmy’s (and other Jew’s) opinions are highly offensive, so they shouldn’t be allowed to voice them.

    1. 0
      David Spalter says:

      Wrong.

      If someone who is born Jewish decides to be anti-Zionist, they are no less Jewish. They are also no less welcome at Hillel.

      That anti-Zionist Jew is allowed to voice his or her opinions.

      What he or she is not allowed to do, however, is use Hillel’s resources to amplify his or her beliefs.

      Why? Because Hillel is a pro-Israel organization.

      That does not mean Hillel is declaring that anti-Zionist Jew to be “less Jewish.” He or she is simply advocating a position that is contrary to Hllel’s core values.

      1. 0
        Tushar Kundu '17 says:

        Right.
        Sorry, I did forget to make that distinction. I understand that everyone is technically welcome at Hillel.

        The point I’m trying to make is that by barring the use of Hillel’s resources to amplify the beliefs of a sizable portion of Jews, Hillel is essentially stating that the viewpoint is wrong and unwelcome.

        How do you think someone feels when one considers themself Jewish, but his/her position is “contrary to Hillel’s core values”; contrary to an organization that claims to be “maximizing the number of Jews doing things Jewish with other Jews”? Is it really surprising that this person feels unwelcome and unsafe in such a space?

        Finally you did not respond to my inquiry. How do you reconcile your claim that if you are offended by pro-Israel views (which I believe no-one in this thread is claiming to be) it is “your problem”. But speakers with anti-Israel views (which are shared by some Jews) are highly offensive so under no circumstances can resources be used to simply discuss the view.

        1. 0
          David Spalter says:

          I’m not Orthodox, and if I go to an Orthodox synagogue, I wouldn’t ask for a cheeseburger.

          I’m not Reconstructionist, and if I go to a Reconstructionist synagogue, I would not be offended if they served cheese not marked glatt kosher.

          You may not be a Zionist, but if you go to an event sponsored by Hillel (a Zionist organization), you should not expect them to cater to your views by presenting anti-Israel speakers.

          1. 0
            David Spalter says:

            I did answer your question, Tushar. The reason is, Hillel is a private organization, and it has the right to favor pro-Israel viewpoints over anti-Israel viewpoints.

            Its really that simple.

          2. 0
            Tushar Kundu '17 says:

            If Hillel promotes itself as solely a Zionist organization there would be no issue. They are free to create an echo chamber where only views that they agree with are discussed and promoted.

            This entire problem revolves around the idea that Hillel presents itself as an organization for ALL Jews. This article is simply stating that Swarthmore Kehilah did the right thing by leaving Hillel. Instead of adopting one view and forcing all speakers to share it, they realized that this causes people (including many Jews) to feel excluded (whether or not it explicitly barred them).

            There are Jews who very justifiably don’t feel comfortable with Hillel, and Swarthmore Hillel desired to be a group where ALL people (not even just Jews) of different views feel welcome.

            And again, you still ignored my question about how those offended by Zionist views should just suck it up, while anti-Zionists are so offensive that the view cannot be promoted or discussed.

            Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to change your mind, and your arguments have failed to change mine, so this will most likely be my last post. Thanks for the debate.

  7. 0
    Elizabeth says:

    David, do you have any evidence for that? I’ve looked for rigorous polling data on how American Jewish students–or really any American Jews at all–feel about Israel and Israeli government policies (“supporting Israel” is a very nebulous statement, and one person’s “support” is another person’s “treason”), and I haven’t seen it. My local Jewish federation has surveyed me in great detail about (among other topics) whether I thought they were doing enough to support Israel, and I noticed that none of the questions asked me how much I myself “supported Israel,” or what I thought it meant to be supportive of Israel.

  8. 0
    David Spalter says:

    Silly responses. Many (indeed, the vast majority of) Jewish students support Israel and find the anti-Israel agenda to be highly offensive. If Hillel’s pro-Israel stance offends you, that’s your problem.

    1. 0
      strawman says:

      David Spalter, you leave one straw man argument after another. One false equivalency after another. Do us all a favor and go away if you have nothing constructive to post.

        1. 0
          no says:

          No, I am open to considering all viewpoints. But I am not open to ignorance and the clear dismissal of facts that you are propagating on the daily gazette. You basically just want to hear what you want to say and have no consideration for the more wholesome and balanced viewpoints that many students are offering.

          tl;dr Your ignorance is nauseating and you sound like a Fox news propagandist.

          1. 0
            David Spalter says:

            Funny how you have not pointed to one factual assertion that I’ve made that is not accurate.

            Guess its easier to just label people, huh, Mr. “No”?

  9. 0
    Timmy Hirschel-Burns '17 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hi David,

    Just wanted to respond to a couple of your points and then I’ll be ending my participating in this thread since schoolwork, internship apps, etc. are building up. There’s a small part of me that hopes we will have come to a consensus, but I’ll settle for this thread having been an engaging and informative discussion for both of us.

    So, I have to say I’m a little confused by your argument that “your statement that you don’t feel welcome at Hillel proves my point about your dishonesty.” Feeling unwelcome is dishonest? You know my feelings better than I do? The point is I don’t feel welcomed by an organization that bans partnership with organizations or the sponsoring of speakers that hold my political views. A number of other Jewish students at Swarthmore said they felt similarly towards Hillel International. Yes, Hillel International does not explicitly ban my attendance if I hold those political views. But say in an alternate universe Hillel said that Zionist students can attend, but they ban any Hillel chapter sponsoring a speaker that believes Israel should exist as a Jewish state. Would you feel welcome?

    And, yes, I do think Hillel makes implicit definitions of what it means to be Jewish. Like I said it my last comment, Hillel’s purpose has been defined as “maximizing the number of Jews doing things Jewish with other Jews.” When Hillel deems the political views of many Jewish students forbidden for partner organizations and sponsored speakers, it is going to make clear they Hillel does not approve of those political views and turn away some Jewish students. That Hillel, despite their goal of maximizing the number of Jewish students, knowingly drives some Jewish students away makes a clear implication about who they consider properly Jewish and worthy of inclusion.

    Last, your point about pro-Israel students and Kehilah is not comparable to the situation with Hillel International. Hillel International bans the promotion of certain political views. All Swarthmore Kehilah does is allow the presence of views you disagree with. For that to be a fair comparison, Swarthmore Kehilah would have to ban pro-Israel speakers, something they objectively do not do.

    Timmy

  10. 0
    David Spalter says:

    And, as a footnote… you overlook one important thing…

    You claim that a pro-Israel Hillel will alienate some Jewish students and make them avoid the organization.

    Are you so naive as to think that an “open” Kehila that presents anti-Israel speakers could not have the same effect on pro-Israel students?

    I can tell you, with complete certainty, that if my Jewish organization in college presented speakers who spoke of boycotting Israel, I would have NOTHING to do with that organization.

  11. 0
    David Spalter says:

    Timmy,
    Your statement that you don’t feel welcome at Hillel proves my point about your dishonesty. You are trying to convince people that a Jewish student who is critical of Israel is not welcome at Hillel. That’s patently false. Hillel’s standards of partnership merely provide that Hillel’s name and resources will not be used to support those who advocate for the elimination of the Jewish State (i.e. BDS supporters).

    The suggestion that Hillel is trying to define what it means to be Jewish is an outright lie.

    Swarthmore’s students have made a grave error. They have rejected an organization that has done incredible things for Jewish students for decades. And why have they done so? So they can have the right to invite BDS supporters to speak at functions about how Israel should not exist?

    If you know anything about the history of the Jewish people, you’d recognize how tragically foolish your current stance is.

    1. 0
      Elizabeth says:

      Please read https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/03/18/swarthmore-hillel-breaks-parent-organization-over-israel-issues

      It sounds like the institutional arrangement between the student-run Jewish group at Swarthmore College and Hillel of Greater Philadelphia will remain largely unaffected by this name change. This arrangement sounds pretty similar to the way it was when I was a student, back when the student-run Jewish group at Swarthmore was known as “Ruach.”

  12. 0
    Timmy Hirschel-Burns '17 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hi David,

    Although I suppose ideally you wouldn’t have found my depiction of Hillel dishonest and disgusting, thanks for taking the time to read my article nonetheless. And again, even though we would probably disagree on a lot of things, you would still be completely welcome at Swarthmore Kehilah, something I can’t say of myself at Hillel International.

    As far as my depiction of Hillel, I think I accurately pointed out the contradictions in the organization. Hillel’s mission has been stated as “maximizing the number of Jews doing things Jewish with other Jews.” As you say, Hillel is a pro-Israel organization. Well, which goal comes first? What about the Jewish students who don’t fit Hillel’s definition of pro-Israel? If Hillel is trying to maximize the number of Jewish students involved, as they say they are, shouldn’t they include Jewish students with all views on Israel?

    I think there are three ways to resolve this. One, you could admit that Hillel is exclusively a pro-Israel political organization that isn’t trying to maximize the number of Jewish students. Two, it could be an organization that is trying to welcome all Jewish students (so, a bit like Swarthmore Kehilah). Or three, you could deem all political views outside Hillel International’s boundaries and the students that hold them not really Jewish, and try to maximize the number of Jews involved that fit your limited definition of Jewish. I feel this is Hillel International’s current stance.

    As for the BDS propaganda part, I’m not even sure how I feel about BDS myself. Marissa Cohen wrote an article in the Daily Gazette yesterday about her support for Open Hillel/Swarthmore Kehilah, and she is a Zionist who firmly opposes BDS. The way I think about it is if BDS or another idea not fitting Hillel’s guidelines is such a terrible idea, just beat it in an argument. Hillel doesn’t let that argument happen. If it’s a pro-Israel political organization I suppose that’s ok since its main focus is working towards their political beliefs, but if it’s a space for all Jewish students, then it has to allow that debate.

    And a last point, you can’t just call the promotion of any idea you don’t agree with propaganda and expect that idea to be invalidated by that assertion. I’d press you to find a specific, universal, definition of propaganda and only use the word in those cases. I’m not saying the BDS ideas you talk about couldn’t be propaganda, but you should be able to justify why.

    Timmy

  13. 0
    David Spalter says:

    Hillel’ s only message is that it is a pro-Israel organization, and its resources won’t be used to bolster anti-Israel propagandists’ efforts to undermine the Jewish State.

    1. 0
      Elizabeth says:

      Hillel resources is a complex issue. Swarthmore is in an unusual situation in having an endowment for Jewish programming on campus (managed by Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, with input from Swarthmore students). Jewish life at Swarthmore is much less dependent on the resources of Hillel as an institution than Jewish life on most other college campuses in the United States. There is no “Hillel building” or “Hillel staff” at Swarthmore. That’s why “rejecting Hillel” at Swarthmore matters much less for the content of Jewish life on campus than it would matter at most other college campuses.

  14. 0
    David Spalter says:

    Your dishonest depiction of Hillel is disgusting. BDS propaganda is not about open discussions of varying viewpoints. It’s a movement that seeks to eliminate the Jewish State. Hillel is right to draw lines, and Swarthmor

    1. 0
      anonymous says:

      Jewish and non-Jewish students who opposed BDS votes at many US campuses have faced death and terror threats. These include UC Davis, Emory, UCLA, Brown, Vassar NYU, Stanford, and the University of Michigan, among many others. BDS and related anti-Israel organizations do not promote open discussions, but use fear and intimidation on campuses.

      Clearly, a renamed “Open Hillel” will not find a counterpart in Muslim and Islamic organizations, which do not allow open forums with anyone who defends Israel. Unfortunately, Jews are too often lulled into supporting those that hate them for a show of “openness”, and to feel like they belong.

  15. 0
    Jessica says:

    Really excellent and reasoned piece. I especially appreciated the clarity of this: “Swarthmore Hillel could not be an apolitical organization as long as it followed Hillel International’s Israel guidelines. Hillel International’s guidelines are based around the clearly political view that ‘Hillel is steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders,’ and they also contain further provisions that stifle criticism of Israeli policies.” Persuasive and heartfelt – I applaud the author, and Swarthmore Kehilah’s stand.

  16. 0
    Timmy Hirschel-Burns '17 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for the comment. As for my involvement in the group, I’m thinking about it. Like I said in the article, I never attended a congregation growing up, and attending Hillel at Swarthmore wasn’t something I had considered originally. Seeing Swarthmore Hillel’s strengths and wisdom throughout this whole process made me think about it for the first time. I really appreciate its openness, scope, and willingness to let students explore their Jewish identity, and I would have no hesitation to become involved in Kehilah if it’s something I decide I want to do.

    But no, I did not write this article as someone who has been heavily involved in Hillel or even had wanted to, and I didn’t claim to. I wrote it as a Swarthmore student with a Jewish background and a deep interest in the message Hillel sends about Jewish identity. This message is important for people involved in Hillel, but I think also for people like me who are trying to figure out if they want to be involved.

    I’m a firm believer that people should be able to decide for themselves how they want to be Jewish. For you, that might mean weekly participation in Ruach, but as for me, I don’t know yet.

    Timmy

  17. 0
    Elizabeth says:

    As an alum who was a weekly participant in the organization-then-known-as-Ruach, may I suggest that if you feel strongly enough to write a lengthy opinion piece about the name of your campus Jewish group…you might want to consider actually getting more involved in the group?

    What I learned about Judaism and the Jewish rhythm of living from my peers at Ruach changed the course of my life (not least because I met my spouse at a Shabbat dinner in graduate school). The core value I took from Ruach: that there is one day out of seven when I should feel no guilt in lingering over meals with friends and family instead of working, has maintained my sanity and benefitted my children during particularly intense periods of my adult life.

    Your campus Jewish group just changed its name to welcome you. Please consider becoming more involved!

  18. 0
    Albin says:

    From one grandchild of a Buchenwald survivor to another:

    Thank you. A wonderful, heartfelt, and honest writing. We honor the memory of our ancestors, both those who perished and those who are still with us, when we refuse to allow Judaism to be wrapped up in ethno-nationalism and restrictions on free speech and free thought. Keep it up. I am with you, tens of thousands around the world are with you, and the spirits of our forebearers are with you too.

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