As someone who is actively working to connect my Jewish and gay identities, I know Hillel to be the most welcoming, inclusive place I have ever worked. One of the perks of my job is visiting campuses across the country and seeing how students are embraced at Hillel because of their myriad identities, not despite them. The programs we run, the diversity we model and the inclusivity we foster show students at an impressionable time that they are valued for their whole selves.
That is why it is so disheartening to see The Forward publish a letter from rabbis accusing Hillel of isolating LGBTQ Jewish students and viewing them as disposable. Nothing could be further from the truth. These rabbis have been badly misled by a small group of people that is using a single incident at one school to continue their campaign to force Hillel to host programs and organizations that promote a boycott of Israel. This is something Hillel will not do.
We are proud of our LGBTQ track record. We have developed strong programming on campuses across the country and around the world. We celebrate each student’s diverse identity and provide spaces for them to connect with their Judaism and their sexual and gender identity at the same time. And we have a longstanding partnership with Keshet to support even more LGBTQ inclusion in Jewish life.
Hillel has been actively engaged in the Jewish LGBTQ community for decades. We developed an LGBTQ Resource Guide with Keshet in 2007, including Jewish blessings for going through the transition process and thoughtful articles about why Jewish text is supportive of LGBTQ individuals. That was groundbreaking at the time.
Hillel at Ohio State University, in partnership with students on campus, made a very difficult decision to disaffiliate from a campus LGBTQ group with historic ties to Hillel because this group insisted on using Hillel resources to promote programming for Jewish Voices for Peace, a group that believes in boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning Israel. Hillel made clear in numerous discussions with these students that we wanted to work with B’nai Keshet to help LGBT refugees, but the two students in charge of B’nai Keshet, one of which is also an active leader in JVP, were insistent that they wanted to promote JVP programming through Hillel.
Ohio State Hillel, like all Hillels, is committed to LGBTQ programming and is continuing to provide strong programs for these students, as they have for decades. LGBTQ students at Ohio State are working to start a new group affiliated with Hillel that provides a place for diverse students to feel welcome and engaged.
Hillel never tried to shut down JVP’s events. We never discouraged participants from being there. We never discouraged organizational partners from signing on to their event. We believe that campus is a place where anyone with any perspective has the right to organize. But we won’t allow our resources to go toward an organization that supports BDS, which is not in line with our organizational values of inspiring all students to build an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning, and Israel.
Hillel proudly works with a wide range of groups across the political spectrum. But we will not provide a platform for groups whose sole mission is to disparage Israel and isolate it from the rest of the world.
Anyone can manipulate information and leave out parts of stories to try and paint the picture they want to share. Hillel is showing its true colors on campuses every day, where LGBTQ students are invited and welcomed into our community, encouraged to pursue leadership positions and most importantly, validated in their right and ability to be their complete and true selves. That is something that LGBTQ rabbis and leaders should be celebrating.
Correction:: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that both students in charge of B’nai Keshet are also in charge of JVP. Only one of the two students holds a leadership position in both organizations.
This story "Hillel Is Proudly Pro LGBTQ" was written by Matthew E. Berger.