Penn Hillel Is Not Your Battlefield — It's Our Home

Walking into Penn Hillel, we feel inspired to participate in causes we care about and to engage in dialogue across a broad range of beliefs. Our Hillel has that effect. It creates limitless engagement opportunities for all Jewish students. The three of us are all vocal participants in dialogue around gender equality, social justice, racial discrimination, and yes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have chosen to become strong and active voices, and Penn Hillel has nurtured within us a sense of activism combined with an understanding of the importance of tolerance. Here, we feel not only heard, but encouraged to question our own beliefs and include as many voices as possible in developing our methods of action.

But recently, outside organizations have sought to impose their own battles on our campus community in a way that undermines all of the good work we have done to build a supportive, safe, and vibrant Jewish environment on campus. Recently, when we walked into Penn Hillel, we had a sick feeling that we had been used as pawns in a political battle that we had not chosen to be a part of.

This past Sunday, we were shocked to see that Open Hillel used both social and conventional media to misrepresent an event that took place at Penn Hillel — an event co-sponsored by a group that backs boycotting Israel, and that some said therefore contravened Hillel International’s guidelines. As if in a battle, Open Hillel claimed to have been victorious by opening up a Hillel which, in our experience as actual undergraduate students attending Penn, is already a model for open dialogue across the full spectrum of views in our active and varied community.

Rather than recognizing our support of this event as an act of unity, tolerance, and openness, Open Hillel chose to publicly politicize it by stating that it signals a break between Penn Hillel and Hillel International.

It is embarrassing to the entire Jewish community that a thoughtful, open, nuanced student discussion on an extraordinarily complex topic should be manipulated and turned into a political combat zone by the organization that is ostensibly arguing for civility and openness.

Fortunately, this is not irreversible. Open Hillel, we ask that you stop attempting to destroy the conversations that we are creating, stop tearing down the comfortable space that so many diverse and committed student leaders have created for all Jewish students from all Jewish backgrounds, and stop framing our community’s dedication to open dialogue as a tool to further your cause.

We are proud to be a part of the diverse and multifaceted Jewish community on Penn’s campus. We are proud student leaders and activists. Please don’t use us as pawns in your political agenda.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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Penn Hillel Is Not Your Battlefield — It's Our Home

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