About

Open Hillel is a student-run campaign to encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels. We seek to change the "standards for partnership" in Hillel International's guidelines, which exclude certain groups from Hillel based on their political views on Israel. In addition, we encourage local campus Hillels to adopt policies that are more open and inclusive than Hillel International's, and that allow for free discourse on all subjects within the Hillel community.

Hillel International's current standards are counterproductive to creating real conversations about Israel on campus. They prevent campus Hillels from inviting co-sponsorship or dialogue with Palestinians, as almost all Palestinian campus groups support the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel. They also exclude certain Jewish groups, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, from the Hillel community. (For specific instances where the Hillel International policies have been used to shut down dialogue or exlcude Jewish groups or students, see "What are the effects of the current guidelines?" below.) Although the Hillel International policies are called "guidelines," Hillel International has threatened to disaffiliate schools that do not abide by them.

We believe deeply in the ideal, expressed in Hillel International's mission statement, of a vibrant, pluralistic Jewish community on campus, in which all people, regardless of their religious observance, past Jewish experience, or personal beliefs, are welcome. In many ways, Hillel has been remarkably successful at fostering such a pluralistic and inclusive community, bringing together students from different backgrounds to learn from and support one another, as well as to openly debate and discuss their differing views. We believe that this pluralism should be extended to the subject of Israel, and that no Jewish group should be excluded from the community for its political views.

In addition, we believe that inter-community dialogue and free discourse, even on difficult subjects, is essential in the context of an educational institution and a democratic society. Open discussion and debate is a Jewish value, and we are proud of our culture's long tradition of encouraging the expression of multiple, even contradictory, views and arguments. However, Hillel International's current guidelines encourage Jewish students to avoid seriously engaging with Palestinian students or other students on campus with differing views on Israel-Palestine. This is detrimental to the goal of encouraging mutual understanding, cooperation, and peace. Thus, we believe it is essential that Hillel-affiliated groups be able to partner with other campus groups in order to share perspectives, cooperate in those areas where we agree, and respectfully debate in those areas where we disagree.

Open Hillel is a coalition of students working for the full expression of these values in our Hillel communities and in Hillel International's guidelines. We invite you to join us, whether by signing the petition to Hillel International, signing a petition to your campus Hillel, writing a testimonial, or organizing an Open Hillel campaign on your campus.


Open Hillel is grateful to be fiscally sponsored by the Washington Peace Center, allowing us to receive tax-deductible donations! Please note that if you donate via the fundly, your donation will not be tax deductible. To make a tax-deductible donation, please donate via paypal or contact us to find out how to donate via check.

Open Hillel Steering Committee

The Open Hillel Steering Committee is responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the Open Hillel campaign. Major decisions are made by the Open Hillel organizing council, a larger group of about 50 college students and recent grads from dozens of universities across America and Canada.

Internal Coordinator
Rachel Sandalow-Ash
Harvard '15

Communications Coordinator
Emily Unger
Harvard '13

Finance Coordinator
Amelia Dornbush
Swarthmore '15

Campus Outreach Co-Coordinators
Justin Szasz
Harvard '17
Holly Bicerano
Boston University '15

Jewish Community Outreach Co-Coordinators
Lex Rofes
Brown '13
Ariel Levin
Haverford '14

Publications Co-Coordinators
Aryeh Younger
Yeshiva University '14
Nancy Ko
Harvard '17

Members-at-Large
Danny Blinderman
Wesleyan '14

Why should you support Open Hillel? Read Ten Reasons to Support Open Hillel!

For official statements and publications from Open Hillel, check out our blog!
For more information on how Open Hillel is governed, read the Open Hillel By-Laws.

FAQ

Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, is a pluralistic Jewish organization that facilitates Jewish religious, cultural, and educational events and fosters Jewish community. It has chapters on university campuses across the US and abroad, and Hillel International is the umbrella organization to which these local affiliates belong.

According to Hillel International's website, "Hillel's mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. Hillel student leaders, professionals and lay leaders are dedicated to creating a pluralistic, welcoming and inclusive environment for Jewish college students, where they are encouraged to grow intellectually, spiritually and socially."

Hillel International currently publishes "Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities". Under the section "standards for partnership," they state:

"Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice:

  • Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders
  • Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel;
  • Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel;
  • Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility."

The full text of Hillel International's "Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities" can be found here.

The current guidelines have two main effects: limiting the Jewish groups that can become affiliated with campus Hillels, and limiting the outside groups with which Hillel-affiliated groups are permitted to co-sponsor events.

At Brandeis, for example, students founded a local chapter of the organization Jewish Voice for Peace, which, among other things, advocates for targeted divestment from companies that profit off the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. This group, as a Jewish organization, sought affiliation with Brandeis Hillel, but was denied on the basis of its political views.

In November 2012, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, an affiliated group of Harvard Hillel, was prevented from holding one of its events in the Hillel building. This decision was not due to the event's content, which was Jewish in nature, relevant to the Hillel community, and had previously been approved by Hillel staff. Rather, it was due to the fact that the event was co-sponsored with the Palestine Solidarity Committee, a Harvard student group that supports the International Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

At Binghamton University, a Hillel student leader was asked to resign because, as a leader in a separate, non-Hillel-affiliated group, he had brought a pro-BDS speaker to campus. Thus, these policies have been used not only to restrict the politics of the groups that can work with or be included in Hillel, but also to restrict Hillel students' activities outside of Hillel.

More recently at Harvard — in November 2013 — an event featuring Avraham Burg, former Speaker of the Knesset, was banned from Hillel because it was co- sponsored by the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC). This event was also co-sponsored by Harvard Students for Israel, the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, and Harvard J Street U. Even though Harvard Students for Israel — an explicitly political, pro-Israel organization and a Hillel affiliate — co-sponsored the event, it could not be held in Hillel due to PSC's involvement.

At universities across the country, these rules are excluding people from the Hillel community, shutting down open discourse on Israel within Hillel, and discouraging dialogue between Jewish and Palestinian groups on campus.

The Hillel International website states that "local Hillels are encouraged to convene their stakeholders to review these standards and create their own Israel guidelines that are consistent with this document and reflect the local environment." When Swarthmore Hillel students voted to create more inclusive policies, Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut threatened them with disaffiliation if they did not abide by Hillel International's "guidelines." However, no concrete steps have been taken at this time, and Swarthmore Hillel is currently in dialogue with both Hillel International and Hillel of Greater Philadelphia to determine the course of their continued relationship. Since this time, Vassar Jewish Union (VJU) has declared itself an Open Hillel, and no threats have been made to disaffiliate VJU from Hillel International. However, it remains to be seen how Hillel International will respond to local Hillels hosting various kinds of events that fall outside the redlines drawn by the current Standards of Partnership. Swarthmore Hillel, Vassar Jewish Union, and the Open Hillel campaign all hope to work with Hillel International to remove or reform the current policies rather than disaffiliating from Hillel International.

Hillel International does not enforce policies about any other subject — Shabbat, holidays, kashrut, Torah, egalitarianism, or anything else — on local Hillels. We believe that local Hillels should be able to develop their own policies on Israel, just as they do for every other subject. We also believe that as more local Hillels declare themselves to be Open Hillels, Hillel International will come to realize that they cannot continue to enforce these policies without alienating a sizeable portion of Jewish college students.

Open Hillel is a grassroots movement run entirely by current students and recent college grads. The campaign was initially founded by students involved in the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance (a Hillel-affiliated group not affiliated with any national organization), but is now an independent movement. We are not affiliated with any organization, and at this time, we have never received funding from any source.

The Open Hillel Organizing Committee, consisting of about 50 students from dozens of schools across America and Canada, discusses and votes on all major decisions, and collaboratively writes all statements released by the campaign. Any current university student or recent grad who is invested in Hillel's future and supports the principles of the Open Hillel campaign is welcome to join the organizing council. An eight-member subset of the organizing council, the Open Hillel Steering Committee, meets for weekly conference calls and is responsible for day-to-day decision-making and functioning of the Open Hillel campaign. Any member of the organizing council who can commit to spending at least one term (fall semester, spring semester, or summer) on the Steering Committee is welcome to join. Steering Committee positions and responsibilites are based on members' skills and interests.

When possible, all decisions (both within the Steering Committee and on the Organizing Committee) are made by consensus. When consensus is not possible, a proposal must receive a 2/3 supermajority in support in order to be put into action. For more on our governance structure, read the Open Hillel By-laws.

Open Hillel is fiscally sponsored by the Washington Peace Center. This means that even though we are not an incorporated 501(c)3, we can still receive tax- deductible donations if those donations are made via the Washington Peace Center. When you make a tax-deductible donation via the Washington Peace Center, the entirety of the donation (after a small administrative fee) is passed on to Open Hillel. Open Hillel does not receive any money from the Washington Peace Center, or work with them in any way other than to accept tax-deductible donations. (Please note that only donations made via the Washington Peace Center are tax-deductible. Donations made via our fundly are not tax-deductible. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, please donate via paypal or contact us to find out how to donate via check.)

If you want to contact us, learn more, or join the Open Hillel campaign, you can use our contact form or email us at openhillel [at] gmail.com.

In December 2013, Swarthmore Hillel became the first in the world to declare itself an Open Hillel. The Swarthmore Hillel student board unanimously passed a resolution declaring their Hillel to be an "organization that supports Jewish life in all its forms; an organization that is a religious and cultural group whose purpose is not to advocate for one single political view" and stating that it will no longer follow Hillel International's guidelines.

Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut responded to Swarthmore Hillel's Open Hillel resolution by declaring it "not acceptable" and threatening the branch with disaffiliation if they do not abide by Hillel International's policies. However, students from Swarthmore Hillel have not backed down, and are currently in dialogue with Hillel International and Hillel of Greater Philadelphia in order to determine the most constructive path forward. Swarthmore Hillel is still affiliated with Hillel International, and no punitive actions have been taken against them.

After Swarthmore Hillel declared itself to be an Open Hillel, student involvement and investment skyrocketed. The Shabbat dinner following the resolution was one of the best-attended all year, despite the fact that it was the night before finals. Swarthmore Hillel's example shows that Open Hillel isn't just rhetorically more inclusive — it actually makes more Jewish students feel welcome and able to be involved in their campus communities.

In February 2014, Vassar Jewish Union (VJU) became the second Open Hillel, following a vote by the VJU board and another vote open to the entire VJU community. Unlike in the case of Swarthmore Hillel, Hillel International made no threats of disaffiliation following VJU's declaration.

Both Swarthmore Hillel and Vassar Jewish Union continue to be affiliated with Hillel International. Contrary to some media coverage, neither campus organization has "seceded" from Hillel International, nor do they seek to. Students at both schools are in dialogue with Hillel International about their objections to the current policies and desire to create an inclusive Jewish campus community.

Boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), is a political strategy to pressure Israel to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories and change certain policies. This strategy first became widespread in 2005, with the founding of the International Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. This movement has three stated goals:

  1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
In order to achieve these goals, the International BDS movement advocates for boycotts of Israeli products and cultural institutions, divestment from companies that profit from the occupation and from violations of Palestinian rights, and international sanctions against Israel.

Although the International BDS movement is the largest organized supporter of boycott, divestment, and sanctions, other organizations and individuals also advocate for the use of these tactics in various different ways. The organization Jewish Voice for Peace, for example, advocates for more targeted divestment, specifically from those companies that directly profit off the occupation. More information about Jewish Voice for peace and their position on BDS can be found here.

Many others advocate only for a boycott of products produced in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Liberal Zionist Peter Beinart recently advocated for such a boycott as a means of achieving a two-state solution and protecting the future of the Jewish state. He argues that the settlements are an obstacle to a two-state solution and create an undemocratic situation in which Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank are not treated equally under the law. He, and others, use a boycott of the settlements as a means of pressuring Israel to end settlement activity.

The Open Hillel campaign does not advocate for BDS, or for any other political position on Israel-Palestine. The campaign simply advocates for inclusion of all Jewish groups within Hillel regardless of their political views, and for the freedom for Hillel-affiliated groups to co-sponsor events with whomever they choose. The goal is not to support any one political position but to encourage an atmosphere in which a plurality of political views can be openly expressed, discussed, and debated.

The most common argument we have heard against the Open Hillel campaign is that Hillel cannot hold events in its building without implying that it supports the political views expressed in the event or by the event's sponsors. However, Hillel, as a pluralistic community, commonly contains affiliated groups with directly contradictory political views. For example, many Hillels contain both an Orthodox minyan, which advocates against same-sex marriage, and an LGBTQ Jewish group, which advocates for same-sex marriage. Both these groups could hold events in Hillel without it implying that Hillel necessarily supports either of these political stances. Similarly, we believe that groups with a diverse set of views on Israel should be able to hold events in Hillel without this implying that Hillel endorses the views expressed by one particular group or event. In such a situation, Hillel is simply expressing its support of the values of pluralism and free discourse.

If, however, this continues to be a serious concern to some people, we would support policies and/or statements making it explicitly clear that Hillel does not necessarily endorse the political views expressed by of any of its affiliated groups, events, or event co-sponsors.

Another argument we've heard over and over is "Hillel is a private institution, so it has a right to put limits on what can be said under its auspices." This is true — Hillel isn't the government, so it doesn't have a legal obligation to permit any kind of speech. But the Open Hillel campaign is not about free speech — it's about what kind of Hillel community we want to build. As people who are invested in Hillel as a pluralistic Jewish community, we believe that Hillel should nurture Jewish life in all its forms. We want to see Hillel be a place for vibrant discussion and diversity of opinion, not a place where inclusion is based on a political litmus test. We believe that the current guidelines harm Hillel by cutting it off from a significant portion of Jewish students and broader campus community, and we want to see Hillel succeed. Yes, Hillel would be within its legal rights to be a political organization where only certain views are acceptable — but that's not what we want to see in our community.

Signing the petition shows your support for an inclusive, pluralistic Hillel that encourages free discourse and open debate. Right now, local Hillels and Hillel International face a huge amount of pressure from donors and others who want to limit dialogue on Israel within the Jewish community to that which they consider "acceptable." We, the students, need to raise our voices and demonstrate that we believe in a Hillel that welcomes everyone and encourages respectful discussion and exchange of ideas. Whatever your political views, you should support the right of others to express their own views freely. The signatures on these petitions — to Hillel International and to our own campus Hillels — will demonstrate that there is broad student support for an Open Hillel and push Hillel leadership to change these destructive policies.

In addition to gathering petition signatures from everyone who supports the Open Hillel campaign, we are also inviting people to write longer testimonials expressing why the campaign and its underlying values are important to them. We want to give individual students the opportunity to have their voices heard, and we believe that personal accounts and statements of support are a particularly meaningful way of conveying the importance of an inclusive, dialogue-friendly Hillel. When we go to Hillel staff and leadership to present our case for an Open Hillel, we will bring these student testimonials in order to fully express why students care about these issues.

We invite all students who believe in an Open Hillel — whatever your Jewish involvement or connection to Hillel — to submit testimonials. We would especially like to hear about why you support the values of inclusivity and free discourse, whether you feel excluded from Hillel under its current policies, and how it would improve your Jewish campus experience to have a more open Hillel. We will review all the testimonials that are submitted, but we will not make any edits to your testimonial without contacting you first.

If you are interested in organizing an Open Hillel campaign on your campus, please contact openhillel [at] gmail.com. We hope to spread this campaign to as many campuses as possible, and will provide you with all the support, assistance, and advice that you may need to start a campaign at your school.

The easiest way to donate to Open Hillel is online. You can make a tax-deductible donation to Open Hillel using this paypal button:

Tax-deductible donations are processed through our fiscal sponsor, the Washington Peace Center. You can also make a tax-deductible donation via check. Please make the check out to "Washington Peace Center" and put "Open Hillel" in the memo, and mail your check to 1525 Newton St NW, Washington DC 20010.

If you want to donate online and see your donation added to our total right away, you can also donate via our fundly page. Please note that donations made via fundly are not tax-deductible.

Both the Washington Peace Center and fundly charge us a 7% administrative fee. If you want 100% of your donation to go to Open Hillel, you can make out a check to "Open Hillel" and contact us to find out where to mail it. Please note that donations made this way are also not tax-deductible.

Thank you so much for supporting Open Hillel!

Open Hillel Timeline

December 2010
Hillel International publishes its current Guidelines for Campus Israel Activity.

March 2011
Brandeis Jewish Voice for Peace attempts to affiliate with Brandeis Hillel, but is denied due to Hillel International's guidelines.

November 2012
5 November: The Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) are asked to relocate the event "Jewish Voices Against the Israeli Occupation" to a location outside of Harvard Hillel due to PSC's co-sponsorship.
12 November: Open Hillel campaign launched with an Open Letter to the Hillel Community.

December 2012
9 December: Open Hillel posts campaign website at openhillel.org.
17 December: Hillel student leader at Binghamton University ousted for hosting a pro-BDS Palestinian speaker at an event outside of Hillel.

January 2013
31 January: Open Hillel campaign and petition officially launched.
31 January: The Open Hillel campaign is featured in a front-page story in The Jewish Daily Forward.

May 2013
6 May: Open Hillel delivers 801 petition signatures to the Hillel International Board of Directors in Washington, DC.
22 May: J Street U student leaders write an op-ed in JTA endorsing Open Hillel.

September 2013
29 September: Open Hillel holds its first national campaign meeting in Washington, DC.

October 2013
9 October: UC Berkeley Jewish Student Union votes to deny membership to J Street U

November 2013
11 November: Former Speaker of the Knesset Avraham Burg speaks to Harvard students in Quincy House because Harvard Hillel will not host an event co- sponsored with the Palestine Solidarity Committee
13 November: Hillel International declares a partnership with AIPAC to "empower, train and prepare American Jewish students to be effective pro-Israel activists."

December 2013
5 December: Open Hillel condemns Hillel International's partnership with AIPAC, saying "AIPAC deserves a place within Hillel, as one of many voices on Israel-Palestine. However, given AIPAC's specific and narrow policy agenda, it should not define what it means to be 'pro-Israel.'"
8 December: Swarthmore Hillel becomes the first Hillel to declare itself an Open Hillel. Its student board unanimously passes a resolution declaring itself an "organization that supports Jewish life in all its forms; an organization that is a religious and cultural group whose purpose is not to advocate for one single political view" and stating that it will no longer follow Hillel International's guidelines.
10 December: Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut declares Swarthmore Hillel's Open Hillel resolution "not acceptable" and threatens the branch with disaffiliation if they do not abide by Hillel International's policies.
11 December: Open Hillel launches a petition in support of Swarthmore Hillel. In under three days, the petition gains over 1,000 signatures.
13 December: Swarthmore Hillel holds their first Shabbat dinner following their Open Hillel resolution. It is one of the best-attended Shabbat dinners of the year.

January 2014
11 January: Author and Jewish educator David Harris-Gershon is banned from speaking in Santa Barbara Hillel because he has written that boycotts, divestment, and sanctions are a legitimate form of protest. He publishes a statement declaring that he is a Zionist and that he rejects the idea of a one-state solution, but is still banned.
19 January: In a talk at UCLA, Hillel International Predsident Eric Fingerhut calls for a review of Hillel's "Standards of Partnership," saying that the policies "haven't been updated or modernized." Open Hillel releases a statement applauding his call to review these policies and asking that a large, diverse set of students be included in the decision-making process.

February 2014
4 February: Author and Jewish educator David Harris-Gershon is banned from speaking at the DC JCC, the second Jewish institution that has banned him for his views on BDS.
18 February: UC Berkeley alumni release an open letter calling for UC Berkeley Hillel to become an Open Hillel. 18 February: Vassar Jewish Union declares itself an Open Hillel, becoming the second campus Hillel to declare that it will no longer follow Hillel International's "Standards of Partnership".
20 February: Students at Ramaz, a Modern Orthodox high school in New York City, invite Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi to speak at their school in order to hear a Palestinian perspective. Administrators forbid them from hosting the talk. In response, Ramaz students launch a petition calling for administrators to support open dialogue on Israel Palestine and allow Khalidi to speak.
20 February: Judith Butler is prevented from speaking at the Jewish Museum in New York because of her pro-BDS views. Although Butler's talk was to be on Kafka's existentialist philosophy — a subject completely unrelated to Israel-Palestine — she was pressured to withdraw because of her political views.

March 2014
13 March: Open Hillel announces a new leadership structure, with a Steering Committee of 8 members to coordinate day-to-day campaign activities and a larger organizing council for major decisions.

To see a history of the articles that have been published about Open Hillel, check out the "In the Media" section on our homepage.

Open Hillel is a student-run campaign and is not affiliated with Hillel International or any local Hillel.
Website design by Emily Unger.