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Monday, July 24, 2006

I'm speaking in NYC the week after next

The week after next (May 30-June 1) New Voices is hosting The 35th Annual National Conference for Independent Jewish Student Journalists at NYU's Bronfman Center.

I've accepted an invitation to be on this panel:

A Close Look at the Successes and Limitations of Jewish Institutional Campus Life - Hillel, Chabad, et al.
With Simon Amiel, director of the Jewish Campus Service Corps, and Zach Teutsch, co-founder of Jews in the Woods

I am not actually a co-founder of JITW though they gave me that title. I am not sure what would be a better alternative.
More to the point I am very excited to discuss the topic of the ways in which current institutions positively create and problematically limit community and identity. I am especially interested in the ways in which the various organizations interface with other ethnic, religious, and political organziations on campuses.

On the one hand I had wonderful experiences with Brown Hillel, on the other I had very mixed interactions with Hillel's International center.

At its best, Hillel can serve as a catylyst, a focal point of innovative jewish life, and a critical space for justice and change. At its most inept Hillels focus on ice cream, photo opps, and superficial programing as well as naive ethnic triumphalist israel programing and obsession with holocaust rememberances. At its most offensive hillel uses intimidation tactics to bring local leaders in line with national dogmas as was the case with Jilian Redford. Hillel is an impressive engine with a lot of compelling ideas and a broad mission, depending on the way the stars align it can do amazing work.

Chabad plays a very interesting role on campuses nationwide. I studied the Chabad model when i was studying hassidism at brown and wrote a paper for an organizational behavior class on the topic. The model relies on the rebbe's army of committed folks on the ground who forsake high earning professions in favor of a radical commitment to their values and way of life. Though i tend not to agree with large parts of their thoughts, notably the regressive positions on gender and especially the belief that Jews and non-Jews have different souls. Differences aside the model is fascinating. In fact, it helped inspire an amazing idea which has manifested itself in Boston's Kavod House. Run by my friend, the visionary Margie Klein, this organazation we envisioned at Jews in the Woods, combines the hamishness of Chabad with the progressive values for which we stand. Alright, back to Chabad, my experience at Brown was that they were good at nurturing a small cadre of people who were a part of their scene but could sometimes be hard to work with. I have heard that at other campuses there can be issues with Chabad not cooperating with Hillel or being fully disclosive of their motives and behavior. Like Hillel, Chabad has a lot of potential to do good work but Chabad's mission is far more constrained at it undermines their ability to work with most Jews on campus in ways that are empowering and mutually beneficial.

It looks like the panel will be wednesday mid-afternoon. More info when I know it.
In the meantime I am very excited to discuss the Successes and Limitations of Jewish Institutional Campus Life - Hillel, Chabad, et al. I am especially interested to hear about the various campuses with which people are framiliar and the ways in which their institutions were empowering, limiting, positive, and problematic. So, please please, share a comment!

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