You Shall Pursue

March 6, 2013

Hillel and Building Community for the Unaffiliated

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 12:42 pm

Here is an interesting article about the re-invention of Hillel, the Jewish community center on college campuses. And here are my thoughts about it.

Most Jewish young adults go to college. For them, this is their first time on their own making decisions about who they want to be as adults. As such, college campuses are an incredible chance to give young Jews the tools they need to be informed, enthusiastic, proud Jews. And I think that Schiller is very smart to give college students a greater sense of ownership over their Hillel experience.

Our challenge as communal professionals is that we are the scant few where Judaism speaks to us in its current iteration. For some of us, Judaism speaks to us DESPITE its current iteration. We have the tenacity to seek out the small communities, minyanim, study groups, and conferences that promote a lush, flourishing Judaism so different from the tepid mainstream. Most Jews are not going to have enough commitment and bone-headed stubbornness to go seek those pockets and corners out. They see the mediocrity of the mainstream and think to themselves “this is not for me.” And it is not our job to lord it over them that no, really, if you just listen to us and do things our way, you will discover something that really works for you!

As our community grows and changes, it must grow from the bottom up. I teach teenagers, some of whom will be college students in a matter of months. Young Jews have LOTS of questions about Judaism if you give them the space to ask those questions. Their yearning is real, and their insights are often, well, insightful. They often know what they want, and just need the support and the education to go out and get it. As rabbis, we are supposed to be teachers first and foremost. Seeking out people’s questions, desires, confusions, and the deep secret places of their heart and showing them that there is a way for them to make their dreams real. It is not our job to dictate what people must want; that is a sure step to driving people away. Rather, we must give them room and support to see that this community can accommodate them in all their contradictions, fears, and religious struggles. Once people feel like they belong, then they will truly belong.




  1. A-fucking-men. Esp: “For some of us, Judaism speaks to us DESPITE its current iteration.”

    Comment by Dan — March 6, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

  2. This is so key from the article:

    “We did not ask these new students how we could best leverage their social networks to benefit Hillel. Instead we made it clear that our interest was in them and not for the betterment of Hillel. We wanted to know how Hillel could best aid them in furthering their interests, passions and aspirations.”

    So much of the Jewish world I’ve experienced is wholly fixated on preserving institutions, rather than preserving Judaism. So we get high holiday sermons complaining about Jews who don’t join synagogues, but refusing to mention the possibility of independent minyanim, or just getting together for shabbat dinners, or the like. And that ridiculous survey from a few months ago that talked about Jews who identified as “just Jewish” instead of with a denomination as if they were worshipping Baal..

    Comment by Dan — March 6, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

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