I’ve spent the past few days at work compiling a list of contacts at Hillels on what my boss calls “key campuses,” which seems to mean campuses where we can get asses in seats for showings of our Israel advocacy film. So as I’ve been working though the Hillel websites, mining them for information as to the organization and orientation of each particular Hillel, I’ve been surprised at the incredible diversity that is out there. Not so much programming diversity. I’ve visited enough schools to know that programming, especially religious programming, will vary widely base on the composition of the student body. What surprised me so much was the vastly different ways in which these Hillels are organized and run. So, for example, Boston College Hillel, which seems to be relatively active, based on their programming calendar, shares its sole professional staff member with Wellesley College. Wellesley also has its own executive director, though it seems to be mostly student run as well. Contrast this to McGill, my alma mater, which has a student board which works closely with a large professional staff, which is integrated very closely into the city’s larger Jewish community.
While I suppose it is somewhat obvious that this would be true, it surprised me nevertheless. I had always thought that the Montreal system was somewhat anomalous, with a citywide Hillel board and staff coordinating the various campuses around the city, each of which has its own student board, and with the larger campuses having some individual staff as well (to say nothing of the separate system for the French speaking schools). So I was nonplussed to find that the same thing seems to exist in Chicago (excluding the larger campuses of the University of Chicago and Northwestern) and in Orange County. I suppose the question I have is, what creates such a system?
I understand where it came from in Montreal. The Jewish community at the Montreal schools was largely local, and lived at home. Instead of being clustered on separate campuses, away from each other, the Jewish student body lived mostly in the Jewish parts of Montreal. It made sense for Hillel to focus on the community as a whole, rather than on any particular university. Is this true of the Orange County and Chicago Hillels? I suspect not, though of course I don’t know. Something worth exploring I think.