Ethan Weg

The Real Hillel: Pull Up a Chair!

This piece originally was published in the Muhlenberg College Weekly News Paper.

In a world laden with smartphones, computers, and ear buds, it’s easy to fall victim to the glowing screens of technology. Isolated from peers, we walk by without saying hello, speak only with thumbs, and neglect human conversation that defines who we are and what we actually desire. 

Since 1923, Hillel International- the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, has been inspiring students to open their eyes, their mouths, and their hearts to form meaningful communities throughout the world. These diverse communities converse with their heads up, music off, and attention focused on all students who, in the words of John Quincy Adams, empower each other to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more. Together, through face-to-face interactions, they pull up chairs to the table of collegiate dialogue to create spaces of acceptance, understanding, pluralism, and truth.

Members of Muhlenberg Hillel at Spring Formal 2014.
Members of Muhlenberg Hillel at Spring Formal 2014.

Recently, Muhlenberg College Hillel was challenged in the Weekly for not hosting speakers which would have violated our organization’s values and policies. Each week Hillel sets a table for open honest conversations on a variety of topics. Muhlenberg College Hillel lost a member at our table and we are saddened by that the Op/Ed in the March 19 Weekly neglected to acknowledge the thousands of Mules whose college experience has been enriched by all that Hillel has to offer, including conversations about Israel.

Throughout the year Muhlenberg College Hillel caters to a wide array of students  (both Jewish and non-Jewish) through various religious, cultural, and social programs. The 2014-2015 school year produced engaging programming that brought more students through Hillel’s doors and in turn, amplified the opportunities the organization offers.

Muhlenberg Hillel's Free Rita's and T-shirt Giveaway.
Muhlenberg Hillel’s Free Rita’s and T-shirt Giveaway.

Weekly Shabbat services and dinner have grown in size and creativity. Whether it was MLK Shabbat, which explored the Jewish community’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement; Greek Shabbat, which welcomed more than 250 students in celebration of the vital partnership between Greek life and Jewish life that Hillel proudly maintains; or Pride Shabbat, which demonstrated the power of inclusivity within the Jewish community on campus, the fun never stopped.

Early in the Fall Semester, Hillel collaborated with members of the local Orthodox congregation dancing and singing in observance of the holiday of Simchat Torah – a true testament to interdenominational cooperation. After rocking out on Chew Street, the year progressed with monthly Challah for Hunger events in which new friendships were formed and challah (traditional ritual bread) was baked to raise money and awareness for those without food. Additionally, students spearheaded outreach to the college’s Best Buddies chapter to facilitate a screening and debrief of Praying with Lior – a film about a young boy with Down Syndrome and his journey towards Jewish adulthood.

Hillel’s impact has reached far beyond the College’s grounds. Each month, students have brought their enthusiasm and warmth to the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing complex. From listening to stories to serving delicious sweets, the elderly residents look forward to interacting with student volunteers.

Muhlenberg students volunteered on JNF's Alternative Spring Break trip to Israel.
Muhlenberg students volunteered on JNF’s Alternative Spring Break trip to Israel.

Muhlenberg College Hillel works tirelessly to foster Israel education opportunities. Within the last year alone, students have represented Muhlenberg College at the National AIPAC and JStreet Conferences, attended Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Taglit-Birthright trainings, participated on Birthright and JNF trips to Israel, and completed dynamic internships in Israel.

Muhlenberg College Hillel is more than just another building on Chew Street. It produces unique events and special initiatives that add a level of vision and maturity to what Muhlenberg has to offer. In fact, 21st century philosopher Simon Sinek, encourages leaders to think not just about what they want to do, but how and why they want to do it. If students are interested in holding certain programs or are met with certain dilemmas, Hillel is the perfect place to initiate those conversations.

It is time to look up from electronic screens, stop scrolling through social media, and engage in what really matters – the truth. We believe Muhlenberg College can be more informed and receptive to a world of assorted viewpoints. So, be honest, talk to your peers, and pull up a chair at our Shabbat table. Muhlenberg College Hillel has shown us that around one table sits a myriad of people eager to hear different opinions. Thousands have joined the Muhlenberg Hillel family, now it’s your turn!

Muhlenberg students enjoying the Hillel Purim Bash.
Muhlenberg students enjoying the Hillel Purim Bash.

*Written by co-authors Ethan Weg and Joshua Ull

**Other responses include:

About the Author
Ethan Weg, is a semi-professional photographer and media specialist. He is a recent graduate of Muhlenberg College, where he double majored in Jewish Studies and Media & Communications. During his time at Muhlenberg, he was the Executive President of Muhlenberg’s Hillel, and a JNF Campus Fellow. In addition, Ethan has worked for USY (United Synagogue Youth) as a chapter advisor, a regional staff member, and a USY summer programs staff member. And lastly, Ethan is a graduate of the Nativ college leadership gap year program in Israel.
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