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Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life

Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
Logo of Hillel
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Eric D. Fingerhut (President and CEO)
Edgar M. Bronfman (former President)
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Formerly called
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Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life (simply known as Hillel International or Hillel) is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, working with thousands of college students globally. Hillel's stated mission is "to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world".[1] In practical terms, campus Hillel foundations engage Jewish students in religious, cultural, artistic, and community-service activities. Currently, Hillel is represented at more than 550 colleges and communities throughout North America and globally, including 30 communities in the former Soviet Union, nine in Israel, and five in South America.[2] The organization is named for Hillel the Elder, a Jewish sage who moved from Babylonia to Judea in the 1st century and is known for his formulation of the Golden Rule.


The Hillel Foundation was founded in 1923 at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign by members of the local Jewish and university communities.[citation needed] It later came under the sponsorship of B'nai Brith, which served as the sponsoring organization until the 1990s. By then, it encompassed 120 Hillel foundations and affiliates at an additional 400 campuses. The campus foundations seek to create a welcoming environment for Jewish students on their respective campuses. Beginning in 1988, under Director Richard M. Joel, Hillel underwent an organizational shift in mission and structure.[3] An integral part of this shift was the institution of a Board of Governors, chaired by Edgar M. Bronfman until 2009 when he was succeeded by Randall Kaplan.[4]

Bronfman's involvement began in 1994 during a visit by Richard Joel to the Seagram building, when Bronfman pledged his support to an organization he thought had the potential to secure the future of vibrant Jewish life.[citation needed] When Bronfman agreed to serve as chairman of the Board of Governors, Hillel gained legitimacy among other philanthropists. The subsequent revitalization of the organization resulted in increased donor support, updated programming, and broad international recognition. Part of the increased donor support came as a result of Bronfman's well-known campus visits, beginning in 1994, that continued until his death in 2013.[5][6]

Today, Hillel is the largest[vague] Jewish campus organization in the world.[citation needed] Hillel foundations are found in Israel, South America, and the Post-Soviet States, and affiliated organizations are found in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.[7]

Though the Foundation was not organized nationally until 1923, Texas A&M Hillel was founded in 1920.[8] At the time of its founding, Texas A&M University was named the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas.[9][10]

Hillel International Presidents and CEOs

  • Rabbi Benjamin Frankel (1925–1927)
  • Dr. Louis L. Mann (1928–1933)
  • Dr. Abram L. Sachar (1933–1947)
  • Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld (1947–1956)
  • Dr. Judah J. Shiapiro (1956–1959)
  • Rabbi Benjamin M. Kahn (1959–1971)
  • Rabbi Alfred Jospe (1971–1975)
  • Rabbi Norman Frimer (1975–1979)
  • Rabbi Oscar Groner (1979–1984)
  • Larry Moses (1984–1987)
  • Richard M. Joel (1988–2003)[11]
  • Avraham Infeld (2003–2005)
  • Wayne Firestone (2005–2013)[12]
  • Eric Fingerhut (2013–present)[13]


File:Hillel Chanukah Celebration at Kent State University.ogv
The Kent State chapter of Hillel observing Chanukah in the Student Center of the university

As Hillel is funded by donations, it is usually free for an interested student to participate in their activities. However, as set by International Hillel Policy, there are restrictions on the services, topics of discussions, and events that can be held.[14] These restrictions focus mainly on Zionism, where Hillel takes a firm stance in not promoting certain types of views on Israel, such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign.[15] Hillel's strategy, as redefined in 2006, explicitly set a goal to "inspire every Jewish student to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life". To be effective, Hillel activities vary from campus to campus, with an emphasis on responding to the needs of participating students. To reach a larger audience, campus Hillel foundations struggle to create a pluralistic, inclusive environment that still remains distinctively Jewish. To do so, the national foundation organizes trips to Israel,[16] places service fellows at the campus foundations,[17] creates a guide to Jewish student life,[18] and leads advocacy work on Jewish and Israeli issues,[19] as well as providing some financial support to its campus foundations.

Hillel chapters regularly offer Shabbat services. Hillel is also dedicated to social activism, fundraising, and philanthropy for charitable causes. These activities are usually led on the local campus level, but many campuses participate in alternative spring break trips dedicated to service, a Yom Kippur Fast Action Campaign, and the Oxfam Fair Trade Coffee Campaign, as well as more traditional local service projects at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and Jewish community organizations.

Social justice

Since 2010, Hillel's campus initiative at the University of Washington, Freedom Shabbat, has highlighted the problem of modern-day slavery during the holiday of Passover, a time when Jews remember their escape from slavery in Egypt.[20][21]

Hillel also organizes alternative break trips for students across the globe, where students participate in short-term service projects dealing with a range of issues, from poverty to food justice. They have partnered with the non-profit organization City Year to create civic engagement spring breaks for students.[22]

Hillel Houses

Hillel Houses in the United Kingdom

As of July 2014, there are official Hillel Houses in the cities of Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Newcastle, Sheffield, and York.[23] Hillel Houses in the UK are not connected to Hillel International in any way other than name; they are under the auspices of the Union of Jewish Students of the UK & Ireland (UJS).

Hillel House in Birmingham is the largest and most active residential Hillel in the UK,[24] serving over 40 full-time residents and the base for Birmingham Jewish Society. The House provides kosher self-catering accommodation to students in Birmingham, and communal facilities (including a commercial kosher kitchen and 100+ capacity dining room) for Jewish groups and societies.[25] Rooms start from £2,860 per academic year, and there is a range of accommodation - including en-suite rooms.

Hillel House in Leeds is home to Leeds Jewish Society.[26] The Hillel Student Centre is the flagship Hillel run student house. It is fitted with plasma televisions, a shul which is home to the Leeds Student Minyan, as well as a quiet study area.[27] There is also a cafe where kosher lunch is served for students. The centre has been run for many years with dedication by Charles Ross, a Leeds resident. Although no longer residential, there are kosher student flats available at Universities in Leeds.[28]

Hillel Houses in Canada

As of November 2013, there are official Hillel Houses in the cities of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Calgary, Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Guelph, Ontario, Hamilton, Ontario, Kitchener, Ontario, Kingston, Ontario, London, Ontario, Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, Ontario, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Winnipeg, Manitoba. Each Hillel House serves one or more universities/colleges in the area.

Praise and awards

The Hillel Foundation has received numerous praise and awards over the years. One example is from March 2011, the Hillel Organization was a recipient of one of the first nine grants from the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund, a pilot program of the Jim Joseph, Righteous Persons, and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. The fund provides a total of $500,000 in grants and technical support to digital media projects designed to engage 18–40 year olds in Jewish life, learning, culture and community.[29] Investment analyst David Cohen said in a 2006 fundraiser “We [Cohen and his wife] believe that Hillel is perhaps the organization in the Jewish community best equipped to educate the next generation. No other group so fully embraces the entire community the way Hillel does: kosher or not; observant or not; religious or not; Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Orthodox—just Jewish."[30]

Local branches and staff members that are part of the greater Hillel Organization are often recipients of both Jewish and non-denominational awards. As an example, in 2010, Bernard Steinberg, President and Director of Harvard Hillel received a 2010 Covenant Foundation Award for excellence in teaching.[31] In 2008, the University of Kansas Hillel was named "KU Student Organization of the Year" out of more than 500 student clubs for the second year in a row.[32] In 2007, Hillel at Virginia Tech received the University and Community Partnership Award for offering "students the means to explore and celebrate their Jewish identity in a dynamic and comfortable environment".[33]


Most of Hillel's activities differ little from other mainstream campus ministries or ethnic organizations. However, some of Hillel's policies, actions, and leaders have come under criticism. Hillel's use of the motto "Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel" has been criticized as alienating to Jewish students who are critical of Israeli policies, as well as attaching political ideology to an otherwise religious group.[34][35]

A campaign called "Open Hillel" has been started at universities to discuss Hillel's pro-Israel stance.[36][37][38] In December 2013, Swarthmore College Hillel became the first Open Hillel by declaring it will not abide by the International organization's Standards of Partnership, which bar Hillel chapters from hosting speakers or co-sponsoring with student groups that support the BDS movement, hold Israel to a different standard or are deemed to "demonize or delegitimize" the state of Israel.[39][ In a statement from Swarthmore Hillel, “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist." [40][41]In March 2015, Swarthmore Hillel’s board voted to change the name of the organization after Hillel International threatened legal action if the student organization did not modify an upcoming event to meet Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership, which does not allow anti-Israel speakers. The student group removed the word “Hillel” from its title so it could proceed with the planned event,[42]and subsequently adopted the name "Swarthmore Kehilah," severing its association with Hillel.[43]In March 2015, the Student Board President of Muhlenberg College's Hillel resigned over Hillel's refusal to sponor Open Hillel's "From Mississippi to Jerusalem: A Conversation with Civil Rights Veterans" event, bringing three Jewish veterans of the Civil Rights Movement to discuss their efforts on behalf of civil rights in the American South and in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Caroline Dorn, protesting Hillel's refusal to allow the civil rights veterans to speak at Hillel, said in her resignation:"I can’t be a representative of Hillel International, an organization that I feel is limiting free speech on our campus and prohibiting academic integrity."[44] The event was held without the sponsorship of Hillel and had an estimated 100 attendees.[45]

When Swarthmore originally protested Hillel's restrictions on free speech, Hillel President and CEO Eric Fingerhut said that it was "not acceptable" to host certain speakers under the Hillel banner, and that “anti-Zionists will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances.” Hillel International’s rules prohibit Hillel campus chapters from hosting programs that include groups or individuals that “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized boundaries; delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel,” or that support boycott, divestment or sanction campaigns against Israel. Harvard Hillel had barred Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset, from speaking because Burg's talk was cosponsored by Harvard Palestinian Solidarity Committee. Hillel guidelines currently bar liberal Peter Beinart, who supports limited boycott of products produced on West Bank settlements; linguist Noam Chomsky who supports a no-state solution, and Jewish philosopher Judith Butler, author of a radical critique of Zionism that rejects its moral legitimacy.[46]

In February 2014, the Vassar College Jewish Union, an affiliate of Hillel, joined Swarthmore Hillel in declaring themselves to be an Open Hillel, and Wesleyan College's Hillel followed suit. Alumni at the University of California Berkeley have also created a petition calling upon their school to do the same.[47] In response to Open Hillel, a group of students formed Safe Hillel in 2014 to preserve the pro-Israel agenda of the original Hillel organization. According to its founder Raphael Fils, “Hillel should not have to change its mission in order to accommodate those who don't agree with it. Hillel is the one place students are supposed to feel entirely comfortable in their support of Israel. If that makes some people uncomfortable, there are plenty of other places to go just to hear attacks on Israel.”[48][49]

Another criticism has been the monopolistic tactics that the group is alleged to have used to assume primacy over the Jewish campus scene.[50][51] In its attempts to reach out to all Jewish students, some believe Hillel's activities are too broad. In 1997, Jeremy Deutchman, a graduate of Hillel's JCSC fellowship and a student member of Hillel's board of directors, wrote a lengthy article in Tikkun asserting that Hillel engaged in the wholesale "dumbing down" of Judaism, and providing stylish, yet meaningless Judaism instead of substantive Judaism.[52] He echoes a common criticism of the non-profit organization sector, arguing that the organization had become overly donor-driven, and had hence compromised Judaic quality.

Former Hillel president Avraham Infeld was challenged in traditional circles for asserting that Hillel accepts intermarriage (marriage of Jews to non-Jews).[53]

There have also been some controversies involving individual Hillel directors.

  • UCLA Hillel rabbi and director Chaim Seidler-Feller was accused by journalist Rachel Neuwirth of verbally and physically assaulting her on the UCLA campus in October 2003. Eyewitness accounts were contradictory, with some indicating Neuwirth did not provoke the incident, but others indicating that she had.[54] After more than three years of litigation, in a legal settlement, Seidler-Feller provided Neuwirth with a letter of apology accepting full responsibility for the attack on Neuwirth and a large financial arrangement with her.[55]
  • Robert Fishman, director of George Washington University's Hillel, apologized for claiming that a pro-Palestinian law student was a recognized terrorist.[56] Fishman also orchestrated a group of Hillel members to read highly critical questions pre-drafted by Deborah Lipstadt as if they were their own to President Jimmy Carter who spoke on campus in March 2007. This and their tactics of blocking the microphones from other students gave the media the false impression that the audience was critical of Carter despite repeated standing ovations.[57]
    Further information: President Carter's visit to GWU
  • Princeton University HIllel's executive director, Rabbi Julie Roth came under criticism from two Hillel student board members and other members for sending out a mass e-mail encouraging Hillel members to oppose a petition by tenured Princeton faculty members which called on the university to divest from companies that profit from the occupation of the West Bank by Israel. Thirty-eight Jewish Princeton students wrote an open letter criticizing the Center for Jewish Life, Princeton's Hillel, for acting as if the Center would automatically oppose the faculty's petition without debate. The students' letter, which appeared in the campus newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, also criticized Hillel International for prohibiting member chapters from hosting or engaging in discussion with groups or individuals who promote boycotting, divesting from or sanctioning Israel.[58]
  • Rutgers University Hillel's executive director, Andrew Getraer aroused controversy after making comments, in what he assumed to be private twitter conversation, claiming that Palestinians did not exist, that Muslim students at Rutgers sympathized with terror, and that the Quran mandates the killing of Jews[59]

Local Hillels

Hillel's Guide to Jewish Life at Colleges and Universities[60] provides information about Jewish life on campus at many different colleges, including a full listing of local Hillel chapters.

Local Hillels include:

See also


  1. ^ Hillel's mission statement on its "about" page
  2. ^ facts about Hillel from their own webpage
  3. ^ The Remaking of Hillel: A Case Study on Leadership and Organizational Transformation
  4. ^ "Jewish Learning Center course offers guidance for medical decision making". Retrieved Sep 28, 2014. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "JLI Mission a Spiritual Exploration of Israel". Retrieved Sep 28, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Northbrook to Join Worldwide Release of Medicine and Morals". Retrieved Sep 28, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Kohelet Foundation Partners With Rohr JLI". Retrieved Sep 28, 2014. 
  9. ^ From Christian Science to Jewish Science: Spiritual Healing and American Jews Oxford University Press page 160
  10. ^ Gabrielle Birkner (2005-05-06). "A Cushy Fit In Bush Country". The Jewish Week. Archived from the original on May 16, 2005. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  11. ^ The Road to Renaissance. Hillel.
  12. ^ Leadership Profiles: Wayne Firestone
  13. ^ "Hillel taps Eric Fingerhut, former congressman, as new CEO & president". Haaretz. Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel Trip
  17. ^ Careers with Hillel
  18. ^ Hillel's Guide to Jewish Life on Campus
  19. ^ "Home". Israel on Campus Coalition. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  20. ^ "This Friday: Celebrate The Third Annual Freedom Shabbat | Repair the World". 2012-04-11. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  21. ^ "About Freedom Shabbat – Freedom Shabbat". 2012-04-13. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  22. ^ "Hillel’s City Year Alternative Break this Spring Break!". Small And Mighty. 2011-01-21. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  23. ^ "UJS Hillel Foundation - Jewish Spaces". Retrieved July 2014. 
  24. ^ "UJS - What are Jewish Spaces". 
  25. ^ "Hillel House Birmingham". 
  26. ^ Leeds JSoc
  27. ^ "Hillel Student Centre". 
  28. ^ "Self-Catered Accommodation, Leeds University". 
  29. ^ Official Announcement
  30. ^ As quoted in "Forward"
  31. ^ Covenant Organization
  32. ^ Official Kansas University Hillel Webpage
  33. ^ Virginia Tech News
  34. ^ Jewish Week: "Was University of Richmond’s student Hillel leader fired for her political beliefs?"
  35. ^ Jewish student sacked for having mind of her own Alberta Arab News, June 10, 2004
  36. ^ Pink, Aiden (November 2014). "‘Open Hillel’ Is a Much Bigger Problem Than You Think". The Tower. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  37. ^ "Home". Open Hillel. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  38. ^ Pluralism in Hillel must extend to Israel
  39. ^
  40. ^ Hillel warns Swarthmore chapter over rejection of Israel guidelines, JTA, Haaretz, December 29, 2013
  41. ^ Swarthmore Hillel rejects Hillel Israel guidelines, JTA, December 10, 2013
  42. ^ Swarthmore Hillel votes to drop ‘Hillel’ from name The Swarthmore Phoenix, 19 March 2015
  43. ^ Swarthmore Hillel Votes to Rename Itself 'Kehilah' The Jewish Daily Forward, 23 March 2015
  44. ^ Former President of Hillel Speaks Out Muhlenberg Weekly, 19 March 2015
  45. ^
  46. ^ Hillel Threatens Its Swarthmore Chapter With Expulsion Over Israel Dispute; College Becomes First To Associate With 'Open Hillel' Movement, By Derek Kwait, Forward, December 20, 2013.
  47. ^ Berkeley Hillel Urged To Go 'Open' on Israel by Alumni, By Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Press, February 25, 2014.
  48. ^ ‘Safe Hillel’ Wants the Jewish Campus Group to be Safe for All, By Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Press, February 25, 2014.
  49. ^ Safe Hillel
  50. ^ New Voices: Lights Inactive - The death of a Jewish student organization
  51. ^ "Student Presidents Represent Hillel at WUJS Congress"
  52. ^ Tikkun: "Hillel Incorporated: The Franchising of Modern American Jewry"
  53. ^ Faith in Nathan: "Maybe we shouldn’t fight intermarriage after all"
  54. ^ Jewish Journal: "Seidler-Feller Denies Kicking Journalist"
  55. ^ Jewish Journal: "UCLA Hillel rabbi apologizes, settles 2003 case with woman journalist"
  56. ^ Washington Jewish Week: "Hillel director backs off accusations against student"
  57. ^ Jewish Daily Forward: "Hillel Director Students Defend Tactics at Carter Speech"
  58. ^ "Spencer Parts: Princeton Jewish Community Split Over Hillel Stand on Divestment Activists Object To Pro-Israel Pushback by Rabbi (Nov 20, 2014)"
  59. ^
  60. ^ "College Guide: Hillel's Guide to Jewish Life at Colleges and Universities". Retrieved 2014-09-28. 

External links