Swarthmore Hillel Gets Boost From Controversy Over Israel Critics

Openness to Debate on Jewish State Lures New Members

wikimedia commons

By Hody Nemes

Published December 23, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 4)

“We didn’t have a way to talk about this that didn’t fracture our community because we had so many different viewpoints and this issue is so hard to talk about,” said Jacob Adenbaum, a Hillel board member and Hillel’s former Israeli-Palestinian coordinator.

Despite its lack of Israel programming, Hillel was viewed as less welcoming to Israel’s harsher critics — in part because of its guidelines on Israel. “Swarthmore has a definite and distinct community of very, very progressive Jews,” Adenbaum said. “A lot of these people weren’t interested in being part of Hillel because of the fact that they didn’t feel their political views were welcome.”

The board’s decision has succeeded in pulling many of these left-wing students back toward Hillel. “We’ve had students who lean more toward the left who are coming out of the woodwork” since the decision, Wolfsun said.

Ellenson, who is active in J Street U and usually avoids Hillel, said he has warmed up to the group thanks to its resolution, which he sees as part of a larger transformation toward greater inclusiveness. “I might start going to Hillel more — not necessarily to go for tefillot [services] — but to go for the study aspects would be really great,” he said.

Hillel board members say they also want to provide a forum for Jews who hail from more right-leaning political backgrounds on Israel. And they argue their new policy will help in this direction, too. Until now, they say, Jews with hawkish views on Israel had no official forum to express themselves.

“This new discourse that we’re sparking at Hillel will really give space to students at Hillel with more right-wing views,” said Rachel Flaherman, Tzedek (social justice) coordinator for the Hillel board and a member of J Street U.

Previously, the only Swarthmore campus organizations that actively and regularly discussed Israel were J Street U and the Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine, which raises awareness about human rights breaches in the West Bank and Gaza. (SPJP is unaffiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine, a national network of groups that advocate in America on behalf of Palestinian rights.)

Hillel’s new policy pronouncement succeeded in winning over freshman Marissa Cohen, who supports right-leaning pro-Israel groups and co-founded her high school Israel advocacy club. Cohen was largely uninvolved in Hillel this fall, but became very interested in joining Hillel after the vote last week.

Now that Hillel has lifted its unofficial moratorium on Israel programming, she believes it will be possible to host pro-Israel speakers as well. “When they say open, they don’t just mean left. They mean completely open to the entire spectrum of political beliefs,” she said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.