Open Hillel allows VJU to welcome all backgrounds

Two months ago, the Vassar Jewish Union, a Hillel Student Organization (VJU), declared itself an Open Hillel. Since then, there have been many articles published and discussions had about what this means for the Jewish community here at Vassar. In addition, many assumptions have been made regarding the VJU’s beliefs and political positions on Israel. As members of the Vassar Jewish Union board, our hope is to erase misconceptions about Open Hillel and the Vassar Jewish Union, and clarify the role it can play in our community.

Being “open” means the VJU as a student organization of Vassar College does not and will not take a political stance on issues related to Israel. As it states in both our constitution and in the original letter we submitted to The Miscellany News declaring ourselves to be an Open Hillel on Feb. 19, 2014, “the VJU is a nonpartisan organization and will not advocate any particular political opinions.” As such, our goal is for the VJU to be a safe space and a home for students who hold a wide variety of views on Israel.

On our board, there is an incredible range of opinions on Israel, including people who support Israel, are Israeli citizens, identify as Zionists and travel to Israel regularly. There are people who are questioning their views on Israel, people who support BDS, and people who are less engaged with these issues. Our hope is for all students to feel welcome at the VJU, regardless of their political affiliations and beliefs. That was our intention when we joined the Open Hillel movement.

As an Open Hillel, our hope is that going forward, we can be presented with the opportunity to host, partner with and fund events that address a multiplicity of viewpoints on Israel. Events will be approved on a case-by-case basis by the VJU board. The VJU will not approve events that we believe to be offensive or anti-Semitic. The VJU has never tolerated hate speech, and never will.

Our membership chose to join Open Hillel because we support its mission to encourage Hillel International to change its “Israel Guidelines,” which preclude student organizations affiliated with Hillel from hosting speakers that do not fall within those guidelines. As we wrote in our original Open Hillel statement, “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.” By joining Open Hillel, the VJU has not disaffiliated itself from Hillel International. We continue to be a Hillel student organization, and have engaged in productive dialogue with the leadership of Hillel.

We feel strongly aligned with the Open Hillel mission of inclusion. It is similar to the goals outlined in the VJU’s constitution regarding plurality and including a multiplicity of voices in our Jewish community. In the VJU constitution, the VJU constitution explicitly states, “The Vassar Jewish Union seeks to strengthen the development of a pluralistic Jewish community, and to provide a spiritual and cultural home for Jewish expression at Vassar. The VJU seeks to serve all members of the Vassar community, regardless of their background or form of Jewish expression.” Joining onto the Open Hillel movement does not change what our mission has been in the past.

The decision to become an Open Hillel was arrived after lengthy discussions of the VJU board and an open forum with the entire Vassar Jewish Union membership. We welcome anyone in the Vassar community, past, present and future, to join us in these discussions.

 

—This letter has been discussed and signed by all members of the Vassar Jewish Union board.

9 Comments

  1. So long as your group claims to be part of Hillel, your group is violating an agreement with Hillel and infringing on that organization’s trademark rights in the Hillel name. That is unlawful conduct, something Vassar should not permit.
    .
    Moreover, BDS is an Antisemitic group. If you have members who support BDS, they have no business having anything to do with any Jewish cause. They are Antisemites.
    .
    The fact that no one in your group understands the obvious suggests that you have not learned how to think. That suggests that Vassar has failed in its mission to educate you.

    • Actually, Hillel International has an explicit process for disaffiliating its chapters. This process requires at least a 6-month review by the Hillel International Board. Hillel International has not even initiated this process for any of the schools that have declared themselves Open Hillels, because Hillel International’s staff realizes the harm it would do the organization to start kicking out its chapters. So VJU is not in any way violating the law by continuing to use the Hillel name — Hillel International still considers VJU to be one of its affiliates (see here: http://www.hillel.org/college-guide/list/record/vassar-college)

      If you truly believe that all supporters of BDS are anti-Semites, this shows your ignorance of the BDS movement. You would probably benefit from exactly the kind of open dialogue that VJU supports — not because it would convince you to support BDS, by any means, but because it would help you make much more intelligent arguments if you actually understood the movement.

      Kudos to VJU!

  2. This is actually the most honest account of what “open Hillel” means, and it is not only concerning but really veers into the.bizarre.

    It is one thing to state that persons who favor the destruction of the the State of Israel are welcome at a college Hillel to speak and otherwise share their anti-Israel views. I don’t agree with that position, but I can understand it.

    It is quite another thing, however, for a campus Hillel to refuse to take an institutional — or what you characterize as “political” — position on whether Israel should exist or be destroyed. This, I think, steps over the line into absurdity.

    Being institutionally neutral as a Hillel house on whether the State of Israel should be done away with is just not OK, and I don’t see how most Jewish students can have a campus home in such an atmosphere, And that after all, is really the purpose of campus Hillel houses.

    • Also, one point of accuracy: J Street has not been excluded from Hillel. To the contrary, J Street U is a national partner of Hillel International.

    • A nice pieice of Orwellian double talk by Reader20. The moment one questions Israeli settlement policy which happens outside its UN recognized borders, the double talk of “destroying Israel” and rest of the mumbo starts.

      I guess it gets really clear why students walked out of the Hillel (old one).

      • I’m sorry but did you read the article? It clearly states that the VJU has not “walked out” of Hillel (old one) and actually still affiliates themselves with it. Just making that clear to you.

        • “Our membership chose to join Open Hillel “. Open Hillel rules directly contradict the Orwellian censorship of the Hillel (old one). That’s a walk out for all practical purposes.

          • The VJU should take down the Hillel name if they do not want to abide by the rules of Hillel. They are free to walk out, but calling themselves an “open Hillel” suggests to me that they want to take advantage of being part of Hillel (whatever those advantages might be) without having to abide by Hillel’s pesky rules. I know the VJU does not get money from Hillel, so what is the advantage to them of keeping the Hillel name?

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