Hillel: not just for Jews

Regina Siefert

Do you like to feel a sense of community? Are you religious, spiritual, cultural? Are you Jewish (not required, but an added bonus)? If you said “yes” to any of the questions, Hillel is the place for you. “But what is Hillel?” you may ask. “Hillel is a nationwide campus Jewish student organization that gives Jewish students a place to congregate and go to temple if they want,” says social chair Emily Saltzman. “We just get together and do fun stuff.”
Hillel meets every Friday at 6:15 in one of the small Downer dining rooms upstairs. “The reason for that is because the Jewish Sabbath starts every Friday evening and goes until Saturday evening, so we though it would be nice to have a Shabbat dinner together,” Saltzman explains.
The group’s members see the club as more of a community group than a mission-driven organization. “We don’t really have an agenda,” says vice president Alex Cohen. “We’re not really religious, and we’re open to all different types,” he continues. Saltzman explains that Judaism is in general a more personal religion, so many Jews come from fairly different religious backgrounds. In order to cater to those different backgrounds so everyone will feel welcome, Hillel focuses more on the communal and cultural aspects of Judaism rather than the religious aspect. In fact, many Hillel members aren’t actually Jewish; only seven to nine are Jewish in some form. “Our treasurer [Gus Christensen] isn’t even Jewish,” says freshman Leah Pryor. “I decided to join because I am Jewish and fairly religious, and I wanted a place to meet other Jews and go to services sometimes.”
Hillel usually has around 10-15 people attending the meetings, “which is pretty good for a religious organization,” Saltzman says, “even though we’re not really religious.” Compared to other Hillel chapters, the Lawrence’s is not very big because there aren’t many Jews at the university. “And the Lawrence Christian Fellowship is humongous compared to us,” Saltzman states.
“The year before I joined, Hillel didn’t really do much of anything,” Saltzman continues, “but when Claire Weiss became president she really tried to renovate it and make it more fun.” Last year Hillel organized a Passover dinner and service in Lucinda’s that was open to the whole campus community, an event they intend to put on again. Also, select Hillel members are going to Bj”rklunden during the upcoming reading period. “We had a Hanukkah party last year, but it was on the same night as the Christmas party. So this year we’re trying to set up a holiday party with LCF, BSO [Black Students’ Organization] – if there still is one – and probably the Muslim student organization on campus,” Saltzman says.
Anyone is welcome at Hillel meetings, so if you are interested in the Jewish faith and culture, you’re more than welcome to attend a Hillel meeting at Downer and participate in the group’s campuswide events celebrations.