Wesleyan Student Jewish Community is an Open Hillel – by Danny Blinderman

Wesleyan Student Jewish Community is an Open Hillel Affiliate
Danny Blinderman
Wesleyan University ’14

After a lot of hard work, the Wesleyan Student Jewish Community is an Open Hillel. I view this as less of an act of transformation and more as an act of affirmation. Our community has essentially functioned as an Open Hillel for a long time, and I am incredibly grateful for the invigorating, accepting and meaningfully spiritual community I have had an opportunity to be a part of during my time at Wesleyan. At this moment, we thought it was important to affirm our principles and stand in solidarity with our peers who are fighting for the kind of open and pluralistic community we have long enjoyed.

Pluralism provides one of the foundations for our community. We aspire to more than toleration, more than the reluctant acceptance of difference. We strive to embrace distinctiveness warmly, to draw those who are different then us close enough so that we can both celebrate our differences and affirm the common humanity that unites us. We believe that there is more than one way to meaningfully honor Shabbat. We believe that there is more than one way to offer a beautiful, spiritual prayer. We think that if our community accepts these precepts it should also accept that there is more than one way to conceptualize the relationship between one’s Jewish identity and the State of Israel, and that all Jews and all types of Jewishness should be welcomed in our common communal spaces.

Declaration that the Wesleyan Student Jewish Community a Hillel affiliate, will not Follow Hillel International’s “Standards of Partnership”

We, student leaders of the Wesleyan Student Jewish community, have followed with great interest and concern the controversy that has swirled around Hillel International’s Standard of Partnership for Israel Activities, which prevent Hillel from partnering with, hosting, or housing anyone who,(a) denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders, (b) delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies a double standard to Israel, (c) supports boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.

These policies have resulted in the barring of speakers from organizations such as Breaking the Silence and the Israeli Knesset from speaking at Hillels without censorship, and has resulted in Jewish Voice for Peace and other Jewish organizations not being welcome under the Hillel umbrella or in the Jewish community that gathers in those spaces. At Wesleyan, values of inclusion are central to our identity both as Jews and as participants in the wider Wesleyan community.

We believe that no one should be made to feel excluded, marginalized or unsafe in a religious or cultural space because of their political beliefs, and that welcoming an individual while censoring their opinions represents little more than probationary community membership. We reject the idea implicit in Hillel’s guidelines that Jewish plurality gives way to Zionist unanimity, and are acutely aware that many individuals have formed robust, meaningful Jewish identities that do not comport with traditional Zionist ideas.

Our community is structured in a way that gives voice to these values. Student leaders known as Jewish Renaissance Fellows organize Jewish student life and programming on campus. The Jewish program house (known as The Bayit) is operated by a student House Manager who also takes a leading role in organizing student Jewish life. Thus, at Wesleyan, Jewish life and the place of Israel within that life is shaped and determined by the students themselves.

We believe that trust is the bedrock of any community that values each of its members. We are grateful that the Wesleyan Jewish community does not employ chaperones for our conversations. Students are allowed and encouraged to introduce and be exposed to the widest possible range of views, and trusted to make sense of the mosaic before them and form an informed position. Our community is built on the assumption that such a process results not in confusion, but in opinions about Israel and Judaism that are more robust and well-reasoned because of the thought that has gone into them.

We believe that restrictive guidelines such as the ones Hillel international has

adopted are not conducive to fostering a culture of intellectual exploration and free inquiry.

We believe that dialogue and critical engagement are central Jewish values. Our community is founded on texts that are meant to be interpreted, argued over, and debated endlessly. The talmud, our central body of religious commentary, contains many differing opinions on how laws are to be interpreted.

Hillel draws its name from the great rabbinical sage who believed that all should be able to learn, and that discourse should be free and unbound by guidelines imposed from above. No one has ever suggested that these values weaken the Jewish community, and we believe Hillel International’s deviation from these principles alienates members of our community and strays from Jewish tradition.

In light of these values, we would like to state explicitly what has long been the implicit policy of our student campus community: we will not follow the current formulation of Hillel’s Standards of Partnership. We are committed to neither censoring nor excluding individuals, groups or speakers from our communal spaces merely because their political views around Israel or other issues stray from mainstream opinion.

We are committed to a conversation around Judaism and Israel that reflects the values of the members of our community, rather than the political preferences of the leaders of Hillel International.

Therefore, the undersigned student leaders of the Wesleyan Jewish Community — the vast majority of current student leaders, including both current Jewish Renaissance fellows and the current Bayit House manager, as well as many former Jewish student leaders — express our solidarity with, and support of, the Open Hillel movement.

As an affiliate of Hillel, we call upon Hillel International to reform its guidelines so as to ensure that no member of the Jewish community is barred from a space that should be rightfully theirs because of a desire to critically engage with, and express opinions about, issues that relate to Israel.

Current Jewish Student Leaders
Talia Baurer, House Manager, Bayit, and Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Matthew Stein, Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Stephanie Blumenstock, Jewish Renaissance Fellow

Former Jewish Student Leaders
Danny Blinderman, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Sydney Lewis, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow and former Bayit House Manager
Becca Caspar-Johnson, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Hannah Plon, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Maggie Feldman-Piltch, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Yona Roberts Golding, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Carolyn Lipp, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Rebecca Schisler, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow
Sarah Lerman-Sinkoff, Former Jewish Renaissance Fellow