On Friday, Hillel International president Eric Fingerhut announced via the organization's website that Hillel will be forming a Hillel International Israel Strategy Committee. Fingerhut also announced that Hillel will be creating a "student cabinet" which will foster enhanced communication between students and Hillel administration.
Fingerhut began by explaining the contentious conversation that has taken place over the past year:
Our Hillel community has been talking a lot about how we relate to Israel on campus. Over the last several months, we have had conversations in person, and we have had debates in the media. We have talked, declared, and argued. These discussions have frequently been challenging. They have also been a source of learning—certainly for me in my first year as President and CEO. And, I hope, for all those who care about Hillel, Jewish life, higher education, and our relationship to Israel. To all the students who have wrestled with these issues, publicly and privately, I want to thank you for your commitment to Hillel, and to let you know that we are listening. Closely.
I see the tremendous diversity within our community, and how all of us are striving towards a common goal: cultivating an inclusive Hillel that fosters meaningful and enduring connections to Jewish life, its people, its traditions, and its historic homeland.
Hillel's president then highlighted his discussions with a number of different student groups, including J Street U, which has come under fire for anti-Israel events and speakers on campuses across the country:
Our communal conversation has been passionate, and I have tried to engage with as many stakeholders as possible. Since the beginning of the year, I have greeted Birthright buses during their time in Israel have, met with the national student leadership of J Street U, engaged with Hillel professionals at the AIPAC conference, and interacted with many students via email and Facebook.
Fingergut then announced Hillel's plans to address Israel-related issues going forward:
In the coming months, I hope to move us forward in our conversation about Hillel and Israel. In order to do so, there are a number of steps I’d like you to know about:
- We are currently forming a Hillel International Israel Strategy Committee, chaired by two experienced campus professionals. The committee will include a diverse group of students from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences. This group will convene to assess Hillel’s current Israel educational strategies and programs, and to make recommendations for how we can improve. More information about this committee and how it will receive your input and ideas will be announced soon.
- We are also looking to build a Hillel International student cabinet. The goal is to ensure direct and consistent communication between the Hillel student community and the Hillel International leadership. This cabinet will include the current six student voting members of our International Board of Directors, as well as additional voices that represent the diversity of students and campuses in our movement.
- Finally, I am excited to share that at our Spring meeting in Chicago this Sunday night, Hillel’s International Board of Directors will be having a very important conversation about pluralism on campus. Students representing diverse campuses and diverse political backgrounds will be joining 30+ board members (including the six voting student members of our board) for this special event.
This is only the beginning. There is much more work to be done. Pluralism is inherently difficult, and Hillel is the Jewish community’s most pluralistic organization. And that—our diversity!—is our source of strength. Our tradition teaches that the smallest unit in which one can study is achavruta, a pair, because no Jew learns alone. We believe that the best kind of learning happens when we do it together. We believe there is inherent value in dialogue, and a diverse chorus of thoughts, opinions and experiences. At Hillel, we are continually learning and developing ways to engage with Israel on campus. And I invite you—I urge you!—to be a part of that conversation.
Eric Fingerhut can be reached on Facebook, on Twitter @eric_fingerhut and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org