Jay Solomon

We need to say clearly that Hillel is the central address for Jewish campus life

This week, 1200 Hillel professionals from around the world gathered for Hillel International’s Global Assembly. 

Given the shared generational trauma of the past eight weeks — to say nothing of the three years since COVID began — being amongst friends seemed more special (and necessary) than usual. 

Having just returned home, I want to reflect on some of my key takeaways from the time together with our international colleagues. 

  1. Antisemitism is alive and well and we must confront it head-on.  From the never-ending list of one-sided resolutions put forth by student unions that demonize the Jewish state, to the professors and teaching assistants who shamefully abuse their position of power by pushing a narrative that is both intellectually dishonest and hateful, to the University of Toronto imam who recently compared Jews to Nazis, Jewish students are facing an overwhelming set of challenges, the likes of which we have arguably never before seen. 

  2. While the overwhelming majority of Jewish campus professionals did not go into campus work exclusively to combat BDS or scrub swastikas from social media, the current situation has been invigorating, providing on-the-job training like never before and infusing staff with new energy and an even stronger sense of purpose.

  3. The tools and resources we have to combat antisemitism are diverse and numerous, as befits any serious, comprehensive, and effective strategy.  Using tactics such as those developed through Hillel’s Campus Climate Initiative and having a forum in which to create, share, and develop new approaches empowers Hillel students and staff to be effective in preventing and confronting anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bigotry.

  4. As much as we might tend to focus on adversity and bad news, we have allies on campus — and in broader society — who have stood by us. In his address to Hillel staff this week, Daniel Lubetzky remarked that the current battle is not between any particular identities or even moderates and extremists, but rather between builders and destroyers in choosing what we want this world to be.

  5. Hillel’s have tremendous partners who provide valuable additions to our robust capacity and programming.  Jewish Federations and their agencies, Birthright Israel, Masa, the Jewish Agency, StandWithUs, the ADL and countless others have offered vital support in this most challenging time, and we are grateful for their willingness to work with Hillel in a productive, thoughtful, and humble manner for the benefit of Jewish students in a way that avoids the ego-driven decision making that can often infect communal politics.

  6. The strong presence of security was a sad reminder of the precarious sense of security and safety for the world’s Jews.  We have come to take it for granted that heavily armed officers in tactical gear are a mainstay of Jewish gatherings and can easily forget that this is neither normal nor acceptable.

  7. Even in these challenging times, it remains possible — even necessary — to find moments of joy and happiness.  As our colleague Hillel Tel Aviv Director Rabbi Noga Brenner-Samia noted, the Hebrew expression gam vegam – both this and this – gives us a framework for holding our grief and anxiety, as well as celebrating our successes and moments of respite.  Neither negates the other.

  8. As important as supporting Israel and fighting antisemitism are at this moment, they are not – and never will be – the entirety of what comprises Jewish identity Jewish learning, tradition, prayer, art, music, wellbeing, and culture are essential components of what it means to be Jewish and cannot be entirely subsumed in the urgency of advocacy.  Instead, Jewish identity, community, resilience, and abilities to advocacy for ourselves are stronger when they are integrated.

  9. And, we need to say clearly and proudly that Hillel is the central address for Jewish campus life around the world. With more than 850 local Hillel chapters globally, Hillel is — and must be understood to be — leading the efforts on campus. 

  10. There is clearly much work to be done, but knowing we have gifted colleagues around the world who share our values inspires us to press ahead in earnest, even when the challenges are significant.

About the Author
Jay Solomon is the Chief Advancement Officer for Hillel Ontario.
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