Reader eQuest
Israel
Candlelighting Times

NEWS: | Local | Ohio | Israel | World | Finance | Soviet Jewry

Local News

Post a comment about this article

Ohio Hillel leaders scratch heads over ‘closed doors’ implication
Students in Hillel and interfaith group Case Cooperation Circle react to anti-Semitism by making Prints for Peace.

“Hillel opens up to non-Jews, focuses on wider campus,” noted the headline in a JTA article published last March.

In response, some Ohio Hillel directors are asking, “When were we ever closed off?”

“(I)n a move that Hillel leaders say has been forced upon them by this generation’s altered social landscape, the organization is throwing open its doors to everyone, designing programs that appeal to Jews and non-Jews, and hyping its contribution to university n not only Jewish n life,” writes JTA reporter Ben Harris at the global news agency that serves Jewish media.

Gary Coleman, executive director of the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, says the article n particularly the headline n is a little misleading.

“Hillel is here to expand Jewish life on campus for Jewish students,” says Coleman. “Our programs are open to anybody on campus.”

“We try to be all things for all people,” says Susannah Sagan, associate director of The Ohio State University’s Hillel. “We feel that we have to meet the students where they are, not where we think they should be.”

Jennifer Chestnut, executive director of Hillel at Kent State University, takes issue with how the JTA reporter paraphrased Hillel’s new mission statement. “Prior to 2006,” Harris wrote, “the organization sought to increase the number of Jews doing Jewish with other Jews. Now it seeks to enrich Jewish student life, the Jewish people and the world.”

Chestnut, who helped craft the new mission statement, says a vital phrase is missing, giving the wrong impression. It reads, “Hillel’s mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world” (emphasis mine).

The wording in the JTA article seems to indicate Hillel has shifted its focus to improving the overall world, rather than nurturing Jewish students to do just that, Chestnut explains. “We’re simply empowering Jewish students to do good.”

While Hillel programs are constantly adapting and changing to appeal to each generation of students, their directors maintain that the goals have not fundamentally changed.

“We provide a good variety of social, cultural and religious events so there is something for everyone,” Cleveland Hillel Jewish student life coordinator Ricky Marcus says. “Even the Jewish students don’t always want to do something Jewish.”

Coleman of the Cleveland Hillel Foundation says students tell Hillel directors they want to socialize with a wider range of students. Hillel does what it can to make that possible, such as integrating kosher dining into regular dining halls, so students who keep kosher can eat and socialize with those who do not.

Programs at the OSU Hillel are fairly all-encompassing, notes Sagan. Non-Jewish students attend events for a variety of reasons, whether for a diversity requirement, curiosity, community service, or because their friends are going.

“There’s a difference between ‘intention’ and ‘byproduct,’” Chestnut says. “A byproduct of a fantastic Israeli hip-hop group coming to campus is that you may see non-Jewish students” attending the event. The intention of such an event would be to bring Jewish students together to celebrate Israeli music, she explains.

In February, the Cleveland Hillel sponsored a discussion series at John Carroll University called “A Taste of Judaism,” hosted by Rabbi Matthew J. Eisenberg of Temple Israel Ner Tamid. The program was a crash course on the history of Judaism, Torah, and explanations of Jewish traditions and practices. Those present were, for the most part, not Jewish, Hillel’s Marcus says, but they were interested in learning about Judaism as part of their own spiritual journeys.

Coleman and Hillel’s Cleveland metro director Jill Ross are proud of other interfaith programs at Case Western Reserve University. For example, the InterReligious Council (IRC), a forum to discuss the Middle East peace effort, interacts with the Muslim Students Association.

For the last 10 years, Kent State’s Hillel has made interfaith trips to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which Chestnut says attracts a great number of students who are not Jewish. The trip is part of an effort to “deepen awareness about prejudice, genocide, and what intolerance and hatred bring.”

Along similar lines, Hillel organized Kent State’s Save Darfur Coalition. Hillel spearheads the project, but 12 different departments and student organizations at Kent are involved and work together on various initiatives.

While Ohio Hillel directors maintain their goal is to serve Jewish students, Jewish people do not live in a bubble, Coleman says. “As Jews, we have a commandment to make the world a better place, not just for the Jews.”

with reports from Jennifer Daddario



Post a comment about this article

(optional)

Print this story

Email this story