Judaism Unbound Episode 126: Open Hillel - Rachel Sandalow-Ash, Eva Ackerman

Dan and Lex are joined by Rachel Sandalow-Ash and Eva Ackerman, two organizers with Open Hillel, [1] an organization that works for pluralism and open discourse around Israel-Palestine, in Jewish spaces on college campuses.

(0:01 - 15:23): To begin the episode, Sandalow-Ash looks back on the history of Hillel International, beginning in the early 20th century. [2] She explores its evolutions over time, along a wide variety of axes, including its relationship to Israel-Palestine. Nearing the present-day, she highlights its introduction of the Standards of Partnership for Campus Israel Activities in 2010, [3] along with the beginnings of Open Hillel, which arose in response to them. Ackerman discusses her own entry into work with Open Hillel, emphasizing the ways in which the Standards of Partnership, in addition to restricting programming around Israel, foster a culture where many other forms of social justice activism are stigmatized as well. 

(15:24 - 28:56): Sandalow-Ash looks back at a few key moments in the history of Open Hillel, which was founded in 2012. In doing so, she cites Open Hillel's national civil rights tour, which featured the voices of a number of Jewish veterans of civil rights movements in the 1960s. [4] Lex talks about why that tour became particularly illuminating for his activism in Jewish life. Ackerman expands the conversation by asking how we conceptualize the Jewishness and Judaism of such activists, questioning the tendency to emphasize forms of Jewish life that they are not involved in, as opposed to the justice work that often does relate to elements of Jewish history and identity. She also looks at how college students can (and do) work for positive change within existing Hillel structures, along with ways in which students can create lively forms of Jewish campus life outside of Hillel. 

(28:57 - 40:27): The metaphor of college campuses as "battlegrounds" arises, and Sandalow-Ash states why she believes such metaphors are problematic. Ackerman argues that political litmus tests around Zionism in Jewish spaces contribute to a culture in which many Jews who really would love to take part in Jewish campus life do not feel that they can authentically do so. To close, Sandalow-Ash and Ackerman look at the question of "safe spaces" -- as they relate to Jews, to college campuses, and more generally. [5]

[1] Learn more about Open Hillel by visiting www.OpenHillel.org. For a timeline of significant events in its history, click here.

[2] For an in-depth look at the history of Hillel International, and its relationship to Israel, see this 2014 piece in the New Republic, written by John Judis.

[3] You can familiarize yourself with Hillel's Standards of Partnership for Campus Israel Activities at this link.

[4] For more on Open Hillel's national civil rights tour, see this 2015 article in The Forward, entitled "Shame on Hillel for Shunning Civil Rights Veterans," written by four Jewish civil rights veterans who spoke as part of the tour.

[5] For a piece exploring a moment of Open Hillel's history that garnered a great deal of publicity, see "Members of Jewish Student Group Test Permissible Discussion on Israel," published in December 2013 in The New York Times.