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.