Hillel Doesn’t Work at Small Colleges
Says small-college student
The Jewish campus organization Hillel tries to be everything to everyone, but that doesn’t work at small schools, Swarthmore College student Sam Green argues in the Jewish student magazine New Voices. Not that the organization works perfectly at large schools either, he says: “on many campuses Hillel is like a synagogue, JCC, Greek organization, and religious school all in one,” which, coupled with its “non-denominational, pluralistic” approach to religion, is “just as confusing as it sounds.” But that kind of incoherence is less of a problem at universities with “enough Jews to populate Jewish groups and enough wealthy alums to fund Jewish activity.” At small colleges like Swarthmore, Green argues, Hillel offers both—as it were—bad food and too-small portions. The campus “does not have a true Hillel, instead using the Hillel brand to indicate a platform for Jewish student groups”; students trade off leading Shabbat services that leave students who grew up with other traditions feeling uncomfortable; Jewish day school graduates wind up “dismayed” by the paltry turnout and never return, while less affiliated Jews get a whiff of Hillel’s “perceived exclusivity” and never show up in the first place. One point for Hillel’s competitor, the ultra-Orthodox outreach organization Chabad, which Green isn’t cynical about yet—at least they offer “kind and welcoming” staff and “great food.”
The Hillel Monopoly [New Voices]
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