Wesleyan Jewish Students Announce Support for Open Hillel

Slam Hillel International's 'Restrictive' Israel Guidelines

Wesleyan’s Jewish program house, known as The Bayit.
The Bayit
Wesleyan’s Jewish program house, known as The Bayit.

By JTA

Published April 06, 2014.
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The Hillel-affiliated Wesleyan Jewish Community announced its “solidarity with, and support of, the Open Hillel movement.”

The statement issued April 2 was signed by three current Jewish student leaders and nine former Jewish student leaders at Wesleyan University in Connecticuit.

“At Wesleyan, values of inclusion are central to our identity both as Jews and as participants in the wider Wesleyan community. We believe that no one should be made to feel excluded, marginalized or unsafe in a religious or cultural space because of their political beliefs, and that welcoming an individual while censoring their opinions represents little more than probationary community membership. We reject the idea implicit in Hillel’s guidelines that Jewish plurality gives way to Zionist unanimity, and are acutely aware that many individuals have formed robust, meaningful Jewish identities that do not comport with traditional Zionist ideas,” the statement said.

According to the statement, student leaders called Jewish Renaissance Fellows organize Jewish student life and programming on campus. The Jewish program house known as The Bayit is operated by a student house manager who also takes a leading role in organizing student Jewish life.

There are nearly 700 Jewish students at Wesleyan, or some 25 percent of the campus population, according to Hillel’s College Guide.

“Students are allowed and encouraged to introduce and be exposed to the widest possible range of views, and trusted to make sense of the mosaic before them and form an informed position. Our community is built on the assumption that such a process results not in confusion, but in opinions about Israel and Judaism that are more robust and well-reasoned because of the thought that has gone into them. We believe that restrictive guidelines such as the ones Hillel international has adopted are not conducive to fostering a culture of intellectual exploration and free inquiry,” the student statement said.

Swarthmore College Hillel became the first chapter of the Jewish campus organization to declare itself an “Open Hillel” — part of a student movement that says its goal is to “encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels.”

Hillel International’s Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities reject partnerships with groups or hosting speakers who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; delegitimize, demonize or apply double standards to Israel; support boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts against Israel; or foster an atmosphere of incivility.

The policy encourages individual campus Hillels to adopt their own policies that are “consistent” with these guidelines.


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