Thursday, January 31, 2013

Open Hillel in the Jewish Daily Forward

The Jewish Daily Forward has picked up on our Open Hillel campaign!  Here's the full article:

Students Protest Hillel’s BDS Ban

Harvard Jewish Students Launch National and Campus Petitions

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published January 31, 2013.

A Harvard Jewish student group has launched a national protest of Hillel rules barring partnerships with groups that back boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Local campus Hillels have cited the rules in recent decisions to cancel events, deny recognition to student groups, and, in one case, to expel a student from Hillel leadership.
The clash comes as national Jewish organizations continue to devote substantial resources to opposing BDS on campus. The Harvard students’ effort, which officially launches February 4, could represent a significant student-led challenge to their approach.
Harvard Hillel
Harvard Hillel
“At Harvard, the Palestinian community is willing to have dialogue, and it saddens me to see Hillel as the roadblock to that,” said Emily Unger, a Harvard senior and a former chair of Harvard’s Progressive Jewish Alliance, the group organizing the campaign.
Harvard’s Progressive Jewish Alliance alleges that Hillel’s Israel guidelines stifle discourse. Harvard’s Hillel, which has circulated a response to the petition, says that they only block institutional support, not conversation.
“I firmly believe that there is a very important distinction to be drawn between allowing and fostering dialogue, on the one hand, and underwriting and supporting institutional partnerships, on the other,” Harvard Hilllel executive director Jonah Steinberg wrote in an email to his Hilllel’s board in response to the petition. “That does not mean that we should exclude from Harvard Hillel, or brand as traitorous, the very committed Jewish young people who seek meaningful interactions with their Palestinian and pro-Palestinan counterparts.”
A spokeswoman for Hillel’s Washington, D.C. headquarters did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Forward.
The Harvard students’ campaign consists of two online petitions on a website built especially for their campaign. One, open to all signatories, opposes the guidelines on Israel discourse promulgated by Hillel’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.; another, for Harvard students, opposes Harvard Hillel’s implementation of those guidelines.
Hillel headquarters first published the Israel guidelines in 2010. The rules bar Hillels from partnering with organizations or hosting speakers that support BDS. Other categories barred from partnership are vaguer, including those that “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel.”
National Hillel does not require campus Hillels to adopt the same rules, but encourages them to create guidelines that are “consistent” with those rules.
Local versions of the rules have been cited in a handful of recent cases in campus Hillels have banned individuals or groups.
In December, the Hillel at Binghamton University asked a student to resign from volunteer positions he held with the campus Hillel board after he organized a screening of “5 Broken Cameras,” the Oscar-nominated documentary about Palestinian non-violent resistance. A brother of one of the documentary’s directors, who is Palestinian and supports BDS, spoke at the screening.
“It goes without saying an [executive board] member of ours can’t bring a speaker like that,” a Hillel student leader told Pipe Dream, the Binghampton campus newspaper in explaining why the student was asked to resign his Hillel roles.
At Harvard in November, Steinberg cancelled a Progressive Jewish Alliance event scheduled to be held at the Hillel after learning that a student group called the Palestine Solidarity Committee, which backs BDS, would be a co-sponsor.
Unger, the Progressive Jewish Alliance member, said that the experience with the cancelled event had spurred her organization to initiate the campaign against the national guidelines. “We were really very disappointed about this, because we thought it was a great opportunity for cooperation,” Unger said. “That’s why we are waging this campaign, to try to make Hillel a community that is open to everyone, regardless of their political views.”
The petitions already appears to be attracting broader interest. Activists affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace, a national Jewish activist group harshly critical of Israel, have circulated the website on which the petition are posted, and 105 people have signed the petition to Hillel’s D.C. headquarters.
For Unger and her organization, the effort is in part about building student influence in Hillel decision-making. “We want to make it more accountable to the student body,” Unger said.

Read more:

Press Release: PJA Launches Open Hillel Campaign


Students at Harvard Hillel and campuses across the United States have begun a petition asking Hillel International to remove its Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities, which they say pose a political litmus test for who can belong to the campus Jewish community.

The petition, launched Thursday as part of the Open Hillel campaign on, has already garnered over one hundred signatures.

The petition states, “we believe that campus Hillels should acknowledge and engage with a full spectrum of political views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We see cooperation with Palestinian groups on and off campus as an essential step towards peace. Furthermore, if Hillel truly wants to be ‘The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life,’ it cannot exclude Jewish groups simply for their political beliefs.”

Hillel International currently posts
 guidelines which state, "Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice... support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel." The guidelines also include other restrictions on the political views of those who may affiliate with a campus Hillel.

“Hillel should be a place for the entire Jewish community, and a space to have the difficult discussions surrounding Israel and Palestine,” says Elena Hoffenberg, a first-year at Harvard and board member of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). “It’s especially valuable to have those discussions in Hillel as it is representative of viewpoints held in the Jewish community.”

Students in PJA, an affiliated group of Harvard Hillel, say they first learned of Hillel International’s Guidelines for Campus Israel Activity when they tried to co-sponsor an event called “Jewish Voices on the Occupation” with the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC). PJA was told that the event could not take place in Harvard Hillel because PSC supports the Palestinian call for international boycott of, divestment from, and sanctions on Israel.

And two years ago, the Brandeis chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace was denied affiliation with Brandeis Hillel because of the same guidelines, put in place in December 2010.

“College campuses are a wonderful place for people from different backgrounds to come together in dialogue and cooperation,” says Emily Unger, a senior at Harvard and former chair of PJA. “Hillel is my community, and I want its policies to fully uphold its values of pluralism and support an environment in which these important conversations can take place.”


Please find more information and updates on Open Hillel online at,, and

Contact: Rachel Sandalow-Ash
Cell: 617-417-0481

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Happy Tu B'Shevat, all!

It's a bit past Tu B'Shevat, but we had a lovely Tu B'Shevat seder with Students for a Just and Stable Future (and other friends!).

Our seder focused on four themes: Jewish social justice teachings on environmentalism, including ecokashrut; environmental justice, including the work done by Alternatives for Community and Environment in Roxbury; the role of trees in Palestinian justice, including the implications of the JNF; and the action of campus divestment activists against fossil fuels, like those in SJSF at Harvard.

If you're interested in a copy of the entire haggadah, please email us and we will send it on. Here is the introduction to our haggadah:

Maimonides reminds us, “In order to serve God, one needs access to the enjoyment of the beauties of nature—meadows full of flowers, majestic mountains, flowing rivers. For all these are essential to the spiritual development of even the holiest of people.”

The origin of Tu B’Shvat in the Torah was a time for renewal of our commitment to God and sharing of the yield of the land with the poor. Today we celebrate Tu B’Shvat also for renewal of our commitment to serve and protect the trees and all of God’s creation. As those who care about justice and preservation, not only for nature but for all peoples that inhabit this world, we have adapted this Tu B’Shvat seder so that we make take this time to consider and reconsider our interactions with trees, with nature, and with the environment—and how those interactions may and do shape the lives of those around us.

The Tu B’Shvat seder is arranged around the Four Worlds: Atzilut, the world of emanation; Briyah, the world of creation; Yetzirah, the world of formation; and Assiyah, the world of action. Each of the worlds also symbolizes a season: winter, spring, summer, and autumn. In this seder, during each of the four worlds, we will drink another glass of wine and eat symbolic fruits. At the same time, during each of the four worlds, we will consider another way in which we may reflect on justice this Tu B’Shvat: first, Jewish social justice teachings about nature; second, environmental justice in our own Boston community; third, the role of trees in promoting injustices in Israel and Palestine; and finally, the actions of students taken to combat climate change.

We hope that these readings will inspire us, as young people, to think about our own role in perpetuating, critiquing, halting, and reversing the destructive processes of environmental injustice, climate destruction, and displacement.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tu B'Shvat seder tomorrow!

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Join the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance and Students for a Just and Stable Future as we celebrate the new year of the trees and explore our spiritual connections to each other and to the earth!
Featuring traditional foods and engaging readings that explore the Jewish commitment to sustaining and renewing the environment.
Come enjoy wine, figs, dates, almonds, pomegranates, and other delicious fruits of the earth!

Wednesday, January 30th from 6-7 pm in the Hillel lounge.

For more information, please contact

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sign up for Rodef Shalom course!

The Progressive Jewish Alliance is proud to host a 5-part course through the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies called "The Rodef Shalom," looking at both traditional Jewish texts and modern texts on conflict resolution. The course will be taught by rabbinical student (and former Reform minyan adviser) Alana Alpert.

The rodef shalom is an ancient Jewish rabbinic model of a peacemaker, pursuing peace between individuals, families and communities. Throughout Jewish history there were people known in their communities as rodfei shalom (pursuers of peace) or mitavchei shalom (peace-brokers) who acted as the students of Aaron loving peace and pursuing peace.

This course seeks to transform participants into being rodfei shalom, students of Aaron: loving peace, loving people and pursuing peace between individuals, families, communities and nations. We will attempt to do this through the study of Torah, conflict resolution theories, group discussions, and guest speakers. The course consists of six main themes: (1) "Be of the Students of Aaron Rodef Shalom"; (2) The Identity and Methods of the Rodef Shalom; (3) The Rodef Shalom and the Transformation of Conflicts from Destructive to Constructive; (4) The Rodef Shalom who turns Enemies into Friends; (5) The Rodef Shalom who Facilitates Direct Dialogue; (6) Ethical Dilemmas of the Rodef Shalom.

The course will be taught in 5 sessions, on Thursday evenings from 7-9pm, on the following days: February 7, 14, 21, 28, and March 7. It is open to 8-12 people. Ordinarily, the course costs $36, but PJA is subsidizing the cost so that students only need to pay $10. If the cost would prevent you from taking the class, please contact and we will work something out.

You can sign-up here, online!