Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life is a good example of just how open the Jewish community can be. In our work with Hillel, we have seen the organization flourish as an open, inclusive space for students from all walks of Jewish life - especially the growing number of Jewish college students who come from interfaith backgrounds. The impact of such a model, writes Edgar Bronfman, founding chairman of the Hillel International Board of Governors, and Randall Kaplan, the board’s current chair, is that uninvolved Jewish students will have better access to Jewish activities and a greater sense of their own Jewish identity.
Bronfman and Randall believe that the Jewish community benefits from encouraging participation of Jewish students regardless of background. Eventually these students will be leaders in the community, and they will strengthen us with “a commitment to excellence, pluralism, and engagement.” In order to do so, we need to demonstrate that we are willing to accept and respect the “variety of ethnic, educational, political and ideological backgrounds” that comes with today’s diverse college student. They write:
Throwing open our communities to Jews of all nationalities and backgrounds is more easily said than done. Embracing Jews of divergent and sometimes conflicting ideologies challenges us to create environments in which differences are respected and civil discourse is promoted. Hillel’s Open Tent shouldn’t just be a metaphor but a living, breathing forum in which big ideas are discussed.
We know both anecdotally and statistically that our Jewish Big Tent is growing bigger with every generation. It’s in our best interest to engage as many younger folks as possible and let them know the Jewish community is a place that will warmly embrace all who approach. “By immersing our next generation in the beauty of their heritage,” write Bronfman and Randall, “they will not only be enriched, they will enrich the Jewish people and the world.”
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