Eric Fingerhut, New Hillel Chief, Finds Himself in Firing Line on Israel

Some Jewish Students Challenge Pro-Zionist Rules

Zionist Rules: Eric Fingerhut took the reins at Hillel in the summer. Little did he know that controversy was about to erupt in the national Jewish student group over its pro-Israel guidelines.
hillel
Zionist Rules: Eric Fingerhut took the reins at Hillel in the summer. Little did he know that controversy was about to erupt in the national Jewish student group over its pro-Israel guidelines.

By Paul Berger

Published January 15, 2014, issue of January 17, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

“We welcome every student. We love them. We embrace them.”

So said Eric Fingerhut, who just four months into his job as president and CEO of Hillel International is embroiled in a debate about how far Jewish students can push the limits of Israel discussion from within the Hillel tent.

“Any student that doesn’t feel welcome, that is our failing,” Fingerhut added.

Fingerhut, 54, was speaking from his home in Columbus, Ohio, just 150 miles from where he was born and raised in Cleveland. Since taking over as leader of the Jewish campus organization from Wayne Firestone at the end of August, Fingerhut has had to fight two fires related to the Israel debate on campus.

First there was the decision by Harvard Hillel to withdraw from co-sponsoring a talk by Avrum Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, not because of Burg’s views but because the event was also co-sponsored by Harvard College’s Palestinian Solidarity Committee. (Harvard Hillel organized a separate, private event for Burg instead.)

The following month Swarthmore College’s Hillel student board voted to defy guidelines on campus Israel activities and declared themselves the first “Open Hillel” in the country.

The showdown on a small liberal arts campus, which seemed to pit free speech against Jewish communal skittishness regarding Israel debate, drew a less-than-flattering December 28 article in The New York Times.

This has frustrated Fingerhut, who arrived at Hillel with strong pro-Israel bona fides. As a Democratic Congressman from 1993 to 1994, he co-sponsored several pro-Israel bills, including a 1993 law that sought to break the Arab League boycott of Israel.

He also has the kind of background that ought to appeal to younger, liberal college students. He comes from a staunch Democratic household; his aunt was a union organizer. When he was 15, Fingerhut lost his father.

During the late 1980s, Fingerhut was a chair of the watchdog group Common Cause Ohio. In his first term as an Ohio state senator, from 1991 to 1993, he “worked on recycling, clean air, campaign finance reform, and gun control,” according to Kurt F. Stone’s 2010 book, “The Jews of Capitol Hill.”

Although this is Fingerhut’s first foray into Jewish professional leadership, he points out that he has been president of a conservative synagogue in Columbus, Agudas Achim, and a lifelong supporter of Israel. Fingerhut attended Hillel as a college student at Northwestern University and later at Stanford University, where he studied law.


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!
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • 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.