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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Hillel loves J Street

The good news is that J Street is having a hard time being accepted into the mainstream Jewish community in the United States. The bad news is that it has a strong foothold in the mainstream American Jewish community of the future: The American college campus.
J Street U displayed its secure position in the established Jewish campus world today by organizing a panel at the J Street conference that included two J Street U college activists and two Hillel professionals. After an introduction by Yale senior Ben Alter, J Street U’s East Coast representative, each panelist spoke about his or her view on campus discourse about Israel. Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, Hillel International’s director of campus initiatives, advocated pluralism in the campus pro-Israel conversation and stated Hillel’s much-publicized guidelines on which groups are and are not accepted in Hillel’s space. The clear implication was that J Street U, regardless of its criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights, falls within the bounds. Rabbi Lisa Goldstein, the executive director of the UC-San Diego Hillel, noted that even though Hillel does exclude certain Jewish groups (among others, JVP), every individual Jewish student is welcome in the community regardless of political affiliation. “Being part of the Jewish community does not mean you have to sign on a line that these are your values,” she said.

The J Street U panelists conveyed frustration over Hillel’s guidelines for inclusion, with one student–Princeton freshman Aliyah Donsky–noting her ambivalence about Hillel’s declaring “who was in and who was out.” Columbia freshman Cole Leiter spoke about facing tension from Hillel when the school’s J Street U chapter decided ot cosponsor a speech by John Ging, the head of UNRWA (the UN Palestinian refugee agency) in Gaza. Leiter said that the group’s board members had to sit down with Hillel staff and each state that they were Zionist, after answering a series of other questions. He added that restricting campus discourse is “un-American, undemocratic and simply not Jewish.”

But on the whole, the J Street U students seemed to have a good relationship with their respective Hillels. Donsky said that she became involved in Israel activity on campus because a staff person from her Hillel invited her to speak on a panel about the conflict. And Leiter noted that his group ultimately pulled their co-sponsorship of the Ging event because it recognized the value of staying withing Hillel’s community.

Other events speak to this recognition as well. While AIPAC won’t co-host events with J Street, a couple of months ago Leiter’s group hosted an Israel event with LionPAC, a Columbia campus group sponsored by AIPAC. In September, Hillel President Wayne Firestone had a productive meeting with the J Street U student board.
Read the whole thing.

What could go wrong?

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At 7:39 PM, Blogger Sunlight said...

Just so you know, the Jewish kids at a lot of U.S. universities are highly intimidated. I saw an interview with the Hillel director at one university who basically was blasting other Jewish organizations who wanted to come in to counter-protest at the MSA activities. She said something like - they come in for the counter protest and then they leave and we have to still be here on campus.

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

When I went to college( Union 84), Hillel was a secular org that served bagels and lox 2-3x yearly. Every unassimilated student/tuition paying parent should skip Hillel and goto Chabad.


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