A Hillel Board Member’s Perspective

As I am sure most people know by now, this week the Brandeis Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) applied to be a member group of Hillel at Brandeis. After careful and thoughtful deliberation we are not able to recognize JVP at this time.

Here is my take on this:

Unlike many people, when I chose to attend Brandeis I was excited for dynamic, and sometimes overwhelming, dialogue regarding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. I have always been passionate about studying the Middle East, but had no outlet to thoughtfully discuss my opinions with my peers. Although such dialogue is not always easy, I am happy that Brandeis students have diverse venues to explore perspectives, ask questions, and develop thoughtful stances on the Middle East.

Hillel’s decision does not change this important reality.
I became active in Hillel because I love and firmly believe in pluralistic Judaism. I took a leadership position in Hillel because I personally support everything the organization stands for, including our commitment to Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State. My greatest desire is to see vibrant and independent Israeli and Palestinian states peacefully thriving.

Hillel Board’s decision does not reflect our personal politics- it was procedural.
Our vote, in line with national Hillel, simply means that Jewish Voice for Peace, as an organization, does not have a place in the organization Hillel at Brandeis. By turning down JVP we are not turning our back on JVP members. We are not attempting to exclude voices or stifle individual opinions and identities. It is my hope that those who are a part of JVP, or advocate its views, will continue to attend Hillel events and participate actively in our community. You are always welcome here. I look forward to continuing conversations at your events, and at our events. In the future, we may find venues for future collaboration as well.

Although the current debate on campus may be challenging, I think it is important and a positive reflection of our campus culture. Over the last few days, I have participated in intense conversations, built relationships, and asked important questions. I am proud that we are behaving respectfully, honestly and learning from one another. Regardless of your opinion on the outcome, I hope you view this as a learning experience, testament to our character, and can remember the process – not just the result.

Hillel at Brandeis’ official statement:
At this time Hillel at Brandeis is unable to recognize the Brandeis Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as a member group. JVP promotes boycotts against the State of Israel and its positions are not consistent with Hillel’s position on Israel as defined by the International Hillel guidelines; “Hillel is pro-Israel; steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders as a member of the family of nations”.


The letter we sent to JVP:

Thank you so much for coming to meet with Hillel board last night. Unfortunately, we will not be able to accept Jewish Voice for Peace as a member group of Hillel at Brandeis.

We as a board stand strong in support and agreement with the International Hillel organization, with which we are affiliated. While you noted that Judaism is an ever moving movement, as an organization, Hillel aims to support Israel to the best of our abilities. Our policy, consistent with our international guidelines, states that “Hillel is pro-Israel; steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders as a member of the family of nations”. While, based on your presentation, we understand that JVP at Brandeis considers itself a pro Israel club, based on positions and programming JVP has sponsored, we do not believe that JVP can be included under Hillel’s umbrella.

One example, as we discussed last night, is that JVP supports a boycott of settlement goods. Hillel’s position is to oppose groups that “support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel”. While we see it as the right of JVP to support such a boycott, we as an organization do not. While last night you mentioned that you do not feel bound by any of National JVPs political statements, we, as an affiliate of International Hillel, feel we are in accord with its policies and positions. While your relationship with the national JVP may not mirror our own, we do consider your association with the national JVP to reflect an orientation regarding Israel which is not consistent with Hillel’s guidelines.

You noted that Hillel should be a home to all Jewish students and not a litmus test for Zionism. While we understand this point of view, and we hope to be a home to all Jewish students at Brandeis, we do not think that politics is the only way to define home. We are a home in many ways, but politically we stand behind Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. That being said, we at Hillel, “welcome a diversity of student perspectives on Israel and strive to create an inclusive, pluralistic community where students can discuss in a civil manner matters of interest and/or concern about Israel and the Jewish people […] and we encourage students’ inquiry as they explore their relationship with Israel”.

We understand that Hillel, as a pro-Israel organization, may not serve the needs of all Brandeis students. We support the rights of students to organize groups to meet their needs for expression and believe that Brandeis needs to be an open environment for varieties of political viewpoints and expression. So, while we cannot include JVP under Hillel’s umbrella, we fully support your rights to speak openly about your positions and concerns with respect to Israel and we will defend those rights despite our differences in outlook.

Thank you again,
Andrea Wexler and the 2010-2011 Hillel student executive board

Something Worth Celebrating

On Friday, I woke up before 8:00 am for the first time in probably over a year to set up the Great Lawn for Celebrate Brandeis. I think the approximately 300 Brandeisians who attended Celebrate Brandeis would also attest that waking up early was well worth sacrificing some sleep.

On December 3rd at 8:45 am the Westboro Baptist Church arrived in Waltham with a message of religious intolerance and extremism. Instead of fueling the fire with more antagonism, we responded by celebrating our values: tolerance, pluralism, social justice and love.

We ate, sang songs of peace, painted and danced in what was probably Brandeis’ largest Hora. The lawn was filled with undergraduates as well as graduate students, faculty, administrators, staff and Waltham community members. President Reinharz and President-elect Lawrence were present to support this student-led initiative, as well as all four of the Chaplains.

Throughout the rest of the day, the events in the SCC and the success of Hillel’s Harry Potter Shabbat further displayed Brandeis’ diversity and overarching commitment to pursuing a better world.

More significantly, we raised almost 4,000 dollars for Keshet, a Boston based Jewish GLBTQ organization. Over 1,400 individuals signed our “Commitment to Celebrate” statement: http://bit.ly/CelebrateBrandeis

Although Celebrate Brandeis may have originated as a productive and meaningful response to the “visit” from Westboro Baptist Church, in my opinion, it took on a life of its own; Brandeis, like many places, is oversaturated with groups, activities, and service projects. Students at Brandeis come from across the globe, representing a wide spectrum of faiths and political perspectives. However, on December 3rd, we stood completely united in supporting Hillel and the wider Brandeis community not in spite of our differences, but because of them.

Personally, I felt very empowered, humbled and overwhelmed by this positive response. Celebrate Brandeis originated from the minds of a couple passionate students sitting in Hillel Lounge on a Saturday night. It grew to include the voices of over 100 concerned students joining together in the Castle Commons for a shared purpose. The culmination included a massive cross section of campus with the support of the administration, staff, alumni, family, friends and the wider Boston community.

December 3rd has come and passed; but this does not mean we should forget this experience or stop being united through our diversity and pursuing social justice. Because at Brandeis, we know that we are better together. Westboro Baptist Church members have climbed into their van and taken their tour of hate elsewhere. However, I am confident that Brandeisians will continue working to build a world where screams of hate are drowned out by songs of pluralism.

To me, this is something truly worth celebrating.

Celebrate, Don’t React!

If our responses are celebratory instead of reactionary, productive instead of abrasive, we can accomplish so much more. Lets love and respect each other instead of hating them.

Hello Innermost Parts!

A little bit about myself: My name is Erica, I am a sophomore majoring in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies with a minor in Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Studies. I am a coordinator of the Brandeis Interfaith Group and on Hillel Board. I am really new at blogging and am exited to share my perspectives with you!

As I am sure everybody knows by this point, the Westboro Church is coming to Brandeis the morning of Friday, December 3rd , specifically targeting Hillel at Brandeis. As a Hillel member and Jewish Brandeisian who embraces diversity and pluralism, I feel personally hurt and violated. I know that I am not alone.

I also feel angry. There is a part of me who wants nothing more than to confront them, talk to them, do something ridiculous. WBC has the potential to bring out the worst in me, the worst in us.

When I really thought about both what they are out to accomplish, and our University’s values, I realized that direct, reactionary confrontation would not be the best response. WBC wants to prove that college students are irresponsible and immoral. They want us to cause a scene and get violent and react so they can sue us to further fuel their hatred. If we are not careful, we can easily end up being sued for assault and/ or indecent exposure. I am not saying that having fun or reacting is morally wrong- I am just saying that we would be giving them exactly what they want.

To be honest, even though Brandeis is a creative community, I do not think we could develop a response that they have not seen before. We would not be the first to start praying or kissing or drinking and we would not be more effective than anyone who has done this in the past. We are not going to be able to have a pleasant conversation with them, or make them change their minds. In my personal opinion, efforts to do so would be fruitless and counterproductive.

Instead, what if all of Brandeis united to create a response that was both meaningful and could work towards a larger goal?

It will be a much greater accomplishment if Brandeis took advantage of this moment and created a unified response, completely isolated from them, to support Hillel and our community by embracing and living our Brandeis values. We could also use this as a catalyst to fundraise for an organization that represents our concerns and interests.

If our responses are celebratory instead of reactionary, productive instead of abrasive, we can accomplish so much more. Lets love and respect each other instead of hating them.

Hillel, the Student Union and many other Student organizations are currently planning a festival to celebrate our diversity and campus culture of pluralism while showing support to our numerous friends who feel attacked and distressed. We are also going to be having a fundraiser over the course of the day for an organization working towards Brandeis ideals of social justice.

I am please to know that so many students have expressed the same sentiments and are energetic about developing a response for the morning that WBC is on campus. I look forward in working with all of you, sharing more details of our planned celebration, and showing ourselves and the world just how beautiful of a community we can be.