Thursday, December 26, 2013

Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance stands with Swarthmore Hillel

On December 8th, Swarthmore Hillel unanimously decided to become the first Open Hillel. We, the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, applaud Swarthmore Hillel’s resolution to “encourage dialogue within the diverse and pluralistic Jewish student body” on campus.

Hillel International’s “Standards of Partnership” for Israel activities have twice prevented us from co-sponsoring events with the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee in Hillel. We believe that Jewish-Palestinian dialogue is essential to working towards peace and justice in Israel/Palestine, and are saddened that Hillel’s rules have prevented this sort of dialogue from occurring within Jewish spaces on campus. Moreover, we have also seen how, on other campuses, these standards have been used to exclude Jewish students and Jewish student organizations, and we firmly believe that all Jewish students must be equally welcome in Hillel. Ultimately, Hillels and their students can only engage with the full complexity of issues relating to Israel/Palestine in a productive and meaningful way if we allow a full range of political views to be expressed, discussed, and debated. We congratulate Swarthmore Hillel for living up to Hillel’s self-proclaimed mission of being a foundation for Jewish campus life rather than restricting conversations to those whose political views fall within red lines.

Last November, we joined with students around the country to start the Open Hillel campaign, asking Hillel International to remove its Standards of Partnership. Swarthmore’s recent resolution to become an Open Hillel is an enormously positive step towards making the “Center for Jewish Life on Campus” genuinely pluralistic. We hope that Swarthmore is the first of many Open Hillels, and we urge Harvard Hillel to follow Swarthmore Hillel’s lead and adopt a policy that welcomes all voices and allows for co-sponsorship with all groups on campus.

In his letter responding to Swarthmore Hillel’s announcement, Hillel International’s President and CEO Eric Fingerhut quoted our namesake Rabbi Hillel as saying, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” But President Fingerhut neglected to include the remainder of the quote: “And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” If the Jewish community does not listen to dissenting voices within our own community - or to Palestinian voices - are we truly making just decisions or having productive conversations? And if we do not act for change now, then when?

We thank Swarthmore Hillel for their inspiring decision and hope their action encourages Jewish students nationwide to stand up and demand a more inclusive Jewish community on campus.

In solidarity,

Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance
an affiliated group of Harvard Hillel

Please join us in signing the petition in support of Swarthmore Hillel’s decision and the Open Hillel petition to Hillel International.


  1. The following explains a lot:
    Sworthmore was organized by a committee of Quakers prominent in the abolitionist and women's rights movements, including notable activist Lucretia Mott.[6] Swarthmore was established to be a college, "...under the care of Friends, at which an education may be obtained equal to that of the best institutions of learning in our country."[7] Swarthmore dropped its religious affiliation and became officially non-sectarian in 1933.
    I am glad that Harvard is tagging along.

  2. I take exception to Reason #2 of the ten reasons to support Open Hillel. It is about free speech in the following sense. While Hillel is a private institution, it is the basic representative of Judiasm on college campuses. As such, it should not act as a private institution but as a Jewish institution. And a Jewish institution should allow free speech. Rather than trying to justify free speech with references to Rabbi Hillel the Elder and Ben Zoma, I would justify it by saying you are born a Jew, and thus, should not be "excommunicated" for what you say.

    Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel, famously wrote that if the Second Temple was destroyed and the people scattered through sinat chinam, then the Temple will be rebuilt and the people gathered together again though ahavat chinam, causeless love.

    I Googled "sinat chinam ", and found the following interesting article on "sinat chinam":

    Most importantly, when you go to the FAQ on this website:

    Are you affiliated with any other Jewish group?
    But really - what's your label?
    Jewish. Isn't that enough?
    Well, aren't you part of one group or another?
    No. Really! We try to just spend our time doing Jewish learning. Our heritage is the one thing that all Jews share. Our teachers are Orthodox, so they approach the tradition from a traditional perspective (which is logical, after all). But our program so carefully avoids labels and politics that Conservative and Reform Rabbis have actively expressed their support of the program to their congregants and colleagues.

    So "Jewish. Isn't that enough"?
    I never knew I needed ten reasons to be Jewish.

    I have many differences with Chabad. But their openness to Jews of all flavors is truly inspirational. By openness, I do NOT mean supporting various viewpoints, but any Jew is welcome to come to Chabad.

    Amiel Shulsinger

    1. That site claims that it "so carefully avoids labels and politics that Conservative and Reform Rabbis have actively expressed their support of the program to their congregants and colleagues" yet it's actually intolerant & virulently anti any form of Judaism that is not Orthodox, here are some examples:

      From the end of an article devoted to reasons a woman may not wear Talis & Tefilin:
      "In modern society, there is yet another reason why women should not wear tzitzis of a tallis. Today, a woman in tzitzis has become symbolic of the Reform movement. Wearing a tallis shows an affiliation with them, and every Torah-observant woman should do all she can do to distance herself from their false ideologies..."

      This next piece manages to not only malign other streams of Judaism, but Islam as well (at the end):
      "I’ve heard from several people who were not raised religious that they grew up with the notion that there are three equally authentic strains of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Take your pick; they’re all apple pie Judaism.

      Pardon my throwing political correctness to the wind, but this is simply wrong — dead wrong, and I mean that literally. Orthodoxy is basically Judaism as it was observed from time immemorial whereas the other two strains are extremely recent inventions with no real historical basis... any movement which does not accept the Torah’s basic premises and laws cannot in any way lay claim to legitimacy in the eyes of G-d. And if its history is no older than the past 200 years — curiously precisely as the Enlightenment gripped Western man — its claim to authenticity is that much less plausible.

      In spite of all of this, in the eyes of the unlearned Jewish world all strains of Judaism are equally valid. In fact, how can one group be so fundamentalist and intolerant as to claim only it knows the truth? Who do they think they are insisting that theirs is the only true way of serving G-d? How do they know? What makes them any more authentic than we? Thus, tragically, the very adherents to the Torah become characterized as the backward-minded enemies of true, pluralistic Judaism.

      And this again is the evil to which the Rambam refers. As recently as 200 years ago anyone who failed to observe the Torah knew he was sinful and at fault. There were certainly no shortage of sinners then and now, but at least no one had the chutzpah to deny what G-d’s Torah said. That had been handed to us in an unbroken chain from Sinai.
      Today however, the world has become so turned inside out that such givens no longer exist. All branches of Judaism are equally valid; anyone who dares challenge that cherished and sacred premise is the arrogant and fundamentalist enemy of enlightened man. Only Islam (equally tragically) refuses to accept that anyone else just might be right."

      "Lot is bankrupt and the old, irrelevant Avraham waxed richer and richer. That is a pretty fair description of today’s Jewish world. The outstanding feature of today’s Jewish world is the contrast between the resiliency and confidence of Orthodoxy and the angst and depression that characterizes the non-Orthodox Jewish world. Avraham grows strong and mighty while Lot destroys himself."

      There are plenty of other examples as well as numerous places on the site, when it comes to Halacha, they say "consult an Orthodox Rabbi."


    2. With regard Chabad / Lubavitch,
      The only reason Chabad is open to Jews of all flavors is because they want to be 'mekarev' them, which means bring them closer to Orthodox Judaism & ideally their sect of Orthodox Judaism. They're open to all Jews just like missionaries & cults. But deep down they have the same fundamental fundamentalist beliefs that most Orthodox Jews have - it's our way or the hell way - return or be damned. Of course they won't say it, or write it in their warm & friendly (english) PR literature, but it's in the writings of their leaders, and can be heard from former Lubavitchers.

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