Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author.
Boston University Hillel is widely known as a safe place for people of all backgrounds to coexist. While some BU students may frequent the building regularly or stop by once in a while for a Friday night dinner, many have never even set foot in 213 Bay State Road. Students who visit Hillel agree that the center encourages friendship and participation in the community. Amanda Chaplin, a freshman in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said that she goes to Hillel everyday because “it makes me feel like I’m a part of something. When you come to such a big school, it’s so easy to become overwhelmed and lost, and that feeling of inclusion is so important.”
Hillel also serves as a sanctuary for many people who do not affiliate themselves with Judaism, but rather affiliate with the community itself. One student said she feels like part of the Hillel community, regardless of her being a student of color and not Jewish. Rather than return to her apartment after class, she said she prefers to go directly to Hillel to socialize with friends.
Due to recent criticisms of the organization, however, many Hillel students have become increasingly frustrated. Usually, Hillel would remain silent when unfairly denounced. But after the past week’s events, Hillel students are left feeling misrepresented and voiceless.
On Friday, March 18, Hillel students enjoyed a Friday night dinner with members of different religious groups on campus, followed by an interfaith discussion. The next morning, BU Students for Israel, a co-hosting organization, posted a status on Facebook thanking those who had attended.
The status was almost immediately taken down (due to a request), because several BU students used the status as fuel for slander against BU Hillel, BUSI and other student groups unaffiliated with Hillel. Some students commented on BUSI’s post, calling Hillel a “virus,” “constant threat” and a “discriminatory body.” These hurtful messages stirred the Hillel community, as they directly contradicted all the values for which Hillel stands.
Sam Sharon, a College of Engineering freshman and the president of BUSI, said that “the main goal of BUSI and Hillel is to promote coexistence, as demonstrated by the [Interfaith Shabbat] event and in the following morning’s status update. To mask an interfaith dinner and discussion as discrimination, I think, is pretty oxymoronic.”
Critics often use the term “white privilege” when referring to the Hillel community. But it is important to note that this notion is not unique to just the Hillel community, so it would be unfair to cast only Hillel under this shadow. When these words are directed at the BU Hillel community, members feel alienated, labeled and misrepresented, especially because Hillel has such a diverse student makeup. One member of the Hillel community explained, “Hillel is a place where so many different kinds of people interact. Take a look at our lobby: people who are Middle Eastern, North African, European and American all play pool together everyday.” In fact, Hillel is not only diverse in terms of ethnic origin, but in every sense of the word — religious affiliation, political stance and cultural background.
And so, in the interest of collaboration and coexistence, Hillel should be treated with the same respect as any other organization on campus. Criticisms of the institution are welcome, but it is important that they be constructive, well-founded and respectful. When people unfairly denounce Hillel, they do not just affect an organization, they hurt a community of students. So come to Hillel for yourself, and meet the loving, accepting students at 213 Bay State Road.
Rachel Woolf, [email protected]