Archive | October, 2014

My latest (jweekly.com): ‘Open Hillel confab takes on BDS, intellectual freedom’

"Unpacking BDS" panel at the Open Hillel conference (from left): Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace; Sa’ed Atshan, a Palestinian post-doc at Brown University; and student moderator Holly Bicerano | Copyright: David A.M. Wilensky

“Unpacking BDS” panel at the Open Hillel conference (from left): Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace; Sa’ed Atshan, a Palestinian post-doc at Brown University; and student moderator Holly Bicerano | Copyright: David A.M. Wilensky

As noted, I was at the Open Hillel conference at Harvard over the weekend. I was there doing a story on Bay Area folks for jweekly.com. And now it’s live.

Here’s a bit of it:

The prominent pro-BDS contingent was hard to miss. Many displayed their views proudly, sporting black T-shirts with the Jewish Voice for Peace logo on the front and the words “Another Jew Supporting Divestment” on the back.

But the conference was not about BDS itself. It was about whether there is room in the Jewish student community for those who support it to even be part of the conversation. There was a sense among many at the conference that the tide is beginning to turn in their favor.

“I’m one of the most right-wing people here. I’m a Zionist, I don’t support BDS, but this is an important conversation and it’s important to open it up,” said Sarah Beller, a Stanford University senior who grew up in San Jose and currently serves on the boards of Hillel at Stanford and Stanford’s J Street U chapter.

“Judaism is all about intellectual discussion, and about debate and questioning,” Beller said, “and especially Hillels, which are Jewish institutions aimed at cultivating Jewish life in college, where there should be academic freedom. To say that we won’t discuss certain things to protect people is deeply problematic because it ties how Jewish you are to your politics.”

Now go read the rest of it.

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The Open Hillel conference

Jewish Voice for Peace t-shirts reading "ANOTHER JEW SUPPORTING DIVESTMENT" were thick in the ground at the Open Hillel conference

Jewish Voice for Peace t-shirts reading “ANOTHER JEW SUPPORTING DIVESTMENT” were thick on the ground at the Open Hillel conference | Copyright: David A.M. Wilensky

I have returned from what turned out to be a very interesting weekend at the Open Hillel conference. Some reporting on the conference from yours truly is coming soon.

Derek Kwait, my successor as head honcho of New Voices Magazine, was there as well. In a blog post about the conference, Derek mentions some ideas that came up in an interesting chat he and I had the other day:

After the plenary, the previous New Voices Rebbe, David A.M. Wilensky, and I were discussing what the applauses at the plenary said about the student make-up of the conference, and he raised several excellent points: Though [Jewish Voice for Peace-affiliated] students are loud and proud at the conference (and significantly overrepresented among the organizers), the majority of students here probably fall somewhere in that murky area between J Street and JVP, nominally represented in the wider world by organizations such as Americans for Peace Now and Partners for Progressive Israel, that have next to no serious presence on campus, making students who might align with them choose an organization that is not really a perfect fit for them. Other Leftist Jewish organizations should note this and get on that.

You may also notice Derek has promoted me to rebbe. Thanks, bro!

He also makes this bold prediction:

Hillel International had no official presence at the conference, and while this says a lot about Hillel, it doesn’t mean much as far as the overall success of the conference goes: The point here was for the organizers… to create an Open Hillel-like atmosphere for students who don’t have one. These students will leave inspired by this model and empowered by the things they learned here to work seriously towards creating Open Hillels back home…. Whether these students can actually go home and make their home Hillels Open or not, I’m quite sure this will be the last Open Hillel conference without any presence from Hillel International.

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