Members of the Vassar Jewish Union (VJU) community voted on Tuesday, Feb. 18 to declare the organization to be an Open Hillel. The VJU is a Hillel-affiliated student organization that provides a pluralistic space for Jewish life at Vassar; as such, the VJU has access to many of the resources Hillel—as a national Jewish student organization—has to offer, but does not receive funding from Hillel International.
The emerging Open Hillel movement, as well as ongoing conversations on the Israel-Palestine conflict on campus, has prompted the VJU to reflect on the values and guidelines of Hillel International. Open Hillel is a national movement to open the parameters of acceptable discourse on the subject of Israel/Palestine within Jewish groups under the umbrella of Hillel International. As the Open Hillel website states:
“We believe deeply in the ideal, expressed in Hillel International’s mission statement, of a vibrant, pluralistic Jewish community on campus, in which all people, regardless of their religious observance, past Jewish experience, or personal beliefs, are welcome. In many ways, Hillel has been remarkably successful at fostering such a pluralistic and inclusive community, bringing together students from different backgrounds to learn from and support one another, as well as to openly debate and discuss their differing views. We believe that this pluralism should be extended to the subject of Israel, and that no Jewish group should be excluded from the community for its political views.”
The goal of this movement is to foster open and inclusive discourse. The movement is in accordance with VJU’s values as a pluralistic and inclusive organization. We will continue to organize and co-sponsor events that reflect a variety of viewpoints and welcome Vassar community members to work with us toward these goals.
To make our position more clear, we have released a statement to the effect that the Vassar Jewish Union is an Open Hillel. The mission statement of the Vassar Jewish Union calls on us to commit to strengthening our pluralistic Jewish community. We recognize that identification with Israel is not necessarily an integral part of every individual’s Jewish identity. We commit to providing a spiritual and cultural home for Jewish expression in any form.
The Standards of Partnership at Hillel International currently prohibit partnering with, housing, or hosting organizations, groups, or speakers who: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.
We believe that this policy censors and delegitimizes the diverse range of personal and political opinions held by Jewish students. As a result, organizations such as JStreet and Jewish Voice for Peace have been excluded from campus Hillel organizations, and individual speakers have been barred from addressing students at Hillel chapters around the country. Hillel International advocates identification with Israel as a core element of Jewish life, and a gateway to Jewish identification for students.
We believe that Hillel International’s goal to “inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel” does not represent the diverse opinions of young American Jews. We believe that fostering a pluralistic community and supporting all Jewish life on campus cannot be achieved with Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines in place.
According to our own constitution, the VJU is a non-partisan organization and will not advocate any particular political opinions. In the interest of educating and serving the VJU community, however, the VJU will support individual members’ expressions of their own political views, and will seek to represent this diversity with its programming. In that regard, we welcome open discourse concerning Israel, Palestine and any other relevant and critical issues, and will not exclude on the basis of political opinion.
As an Open Hillel, the Vassar Jewish Union will not endorse any particular political view. The Vassar Jewish Union will not exclude organizations, groups, speakers, individuals or events on the basis of political opinion. Rather, we seek to represent the diverse views held by our members and to provide a space for meaningful and respectful debate and discussion.
This position is in accordance with our desire to enrich our political, spiritual and cultural lives at Vassar through free and open discourse. In that regard, the article published in last week’s Miscellany News written by VJU President Naomi Dann was written in her capacity as an individual, and not as a representative of the opinion of the Vassar Jewish Union (“Vassar Ignores Values Behind ASA Boycott” 02.13.14).
Members of the VJU community are hopeful that this action will make the community a more welcoming space. Samantha Basch, VJU Vice President, states, “People often make assumptions that Jews share a common stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The decision to become an Open Hillel helps to foster an environment where a variety of opinions can be expressed and valued. It is a public declaration that Jews hold a wide range of political opinions.”
—The Vassar Jewish Union seeks to serve all Jewish members of the Vassar community regardless of their backgrounds or form of Jewish expression. It operates out of The Bayit, a house located on Collegeview Avenue.