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Restructure Hillel funding for unity’s sake

Special to the Justice

Published: Monday, February 13, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 03:02

Almost half the Brandeis student body is Jewish—it should be no surprise that Hillel is the largest club on campus. In fact, every student at Brandeis is technically a member of Hillel. Like every other Hillel in the world, Hillel at Brandeis strives to bring Jews together from all walks of life. Its mission, according to its website, is to serve as the "nerve center of [the] Jewish community."

It does this by acting as the "umbrella organization" for 20-plus member groups. This model requires that Hillel provide the resources and core identity to its individual groups, each of which has a distinct purpose and goal. More importantly, it assumes that Hillel can help groups to create a space under its "umbrella" for Jews who may not have otherwise met one another to interact and build community.

According to the umbrella approach, there exists a symbiotic relationship between Hillel and its subgroups. Without the Hillel umbrella, the various member groups would be ineffectual, weak and broken. And without the cooperation of its member groups, Hillel would be unable to construct the vibrant community it hopes for.

But this model has largely failed at Brandeis.

Many member groups do not see themselves as a piece of the greater Hillel puzzle. They do not share the same passion that Hillel has for building a vibrant, colorful community. They see themselves as groups that cater to certain parts of the community and no one else. What is missing is the recognition that there is something greater than themselves and their groups.

When you ask the typical member of the Jewish community which Jewish groups he or she is involved in, he or she would most likely respond by naming a member group, not general Hillel. If Hillel were the true "nerve center" of the Jewish community, it would be the first group with which students associate themselves.

The unfortunate reality is that if the umbrella that is Hillel at Brandeis would disappear, nobody would get wet when it rains. The member groups would exist and continue to thrive while not caring to accomplish many of the broader, community-building goals that Hillel has for them.

This is not an indication of the effectiveness of Hillel's leadership, but rather a systematic problem. Hillel member groups are officially recognized and chartered clubs, receiving their own unique University funding. Hillel, on the other hand, receives zero funding from the Student Union Finance Board. Last semester, the 20-plus Hillel member groups received a mere total of $4,000 from Hillel and over $13,600 from the F-Board.

This fact dispels the very notion of a Hillel umbrella. Most of the member groups can function independently of Hillel. It is no wonder that there is such a disconnect. Why would the leaders of Brandeis Orthodox Organization, for example, be loyal to Hillel's mission when they receive more money per semester from the Student Activities Fund than Hillel has allocated to all of its member groups combined?

The solution requires a drastic systematic adjustment. The vast amount of money that the F-Board normally grants the Hillel groups individually should go straight to Hillel to allocate to its member groups. Hillel must become a chartered (and perhaps secured) club, and all of its member groups should no longer request money from F-Board. Instead, they should be newly "chartered" as Hillel clubs.

This will not only cause the groups to rely on Hillel, but also will help reinforce what the Jewish community at Brandeis is supposed to be about. When the Student Union F-Board goes through the process of allocating money to its clubs, it weighs the necessity and effectiveness of the various programs the clubs have planned. If the leadership of the member groups sat down together and underwent a similar process, the unity and commitment among the groups that Hillel has been lacking would finally come to fruition. There would be extensive discourse over how to improve Jewish life on campus, not just for one group, but for the whole Jewish population. This would be the beginning of fulfilling Hillel's mission.

The member groups would still be provided the same amount of funds as they are now. It would just be coming from a different source, which would make a world of a difference. Financial dependence on Hillel would result in the member groups understanding their roles as important pieces that build the broader Jewish community.

Ultimately, there would be greater Jewish unity on campus. This won't solve all the issues that face Hillel; there are still a lot of other problems that must be addressed. However, this structural change would not only benefit the greater Jewish community, but would help Hillel actualize its mission: to build a vibrant, pluralistic community on campus.

Editor's note: David Clements is a Student Union assistant treasurer and a member of the Class of 2014.

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