Hillel on Campus: Not Just for Jews Anymore

In order to remain “relevant” Hillel’s are shifting their mission by “designing programs that appeal to Jews and non-Jews and hyping its contribution to university — not only Jewish ā€“ life.” The article continues:

Prior to 2006, 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. The challenge for us is how do you create expressions of Jewish life that students will deem to be authentic at the same time as they are not exclusive or tribal.”

Why the shift?

[This is] a response to the new landscape of the millennials, the generation born after 1980, and their unique set of cultural dispositions: globally minded, skeptical of institutional authority and unwilling to have their identities narrowly defined.

What does this look like?

Rabbi Joshua Feigelson, the self-described “campus rabbi” at Northwestern University, has designed a campus-wide program called “Ask Big Questions” that stresses the value of Jewish wisdom in addressing contemporary challenges. Other Hillel chapters are organizing interfaith programs, like Jewish-Muslim coexistence houses or trips to rebuild the Gulf Coast. And it’s becoming more common to find non-Jews serving on local Hillel boards or as regular attendees at Shabbat dinners.

At the recent Hillel sponsored conference, civic theorist Robert Putnam (who is Jewish though sports an Amish beard though I have not heard about about his Jewish community involvement), “urged the 675 summit participants — most of them Hillel professionals — to look for ways to create social connections that stretch across the boundaries of race or ethnicity.”

At what point does this approach become play too deeply into the biases of this generation? Will serious Jews continue walking to Chabad? Or is this an exciting application of Jewish wisdom to modern life?

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