By Alina Dain Sharon/JNS.org
When recent rabbinical school graduate Rabbi Benjamin Frankel began a part-time clerical position in 1923 working with students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), little could he have imagined that within less than a century, the small Jewish student program would balloon into a national and international organization with a presence at 550 colleges and universities.
Hillel: The Foundation for Campus Life is celebrating its 90th anniversary in November, the organization confirmed. Under its first full-time national director, Abram L. Sachar, Hillel grew from a primarily religious organization to a center of cultural Jewish learning at a time when Judaism was still viewed with suspicion in academia, and when the existence of Jewish students on American college campuses was relatively new.
“In this dynamic and global environment, our young people will go off and pursue careers and opportunities all over the world, but the one time and place when we have the greatest critical mass of the future of the Jewish people is during the college years,” current Hillel CEO Eric Fingerhut, who assumed the position this summer, told JNS.org.
Wayne Firestone, Fingerhut’s immediate predecessor and current president of the Genesis Prize Foundation, told JNS.org that Hillel is a “shining example in American Jewish life on why and how higher education has been good for Jews and why Jews have been good for higher education.”
While continuing to foster a community for American college students, Hillel also involved itself over the years in international causes such as bringing Jewish student refugees to the U.S. on education scholarships, freeing Soviet Jewry for emigration, and growing support for Israel, especially in the wake of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War.
In the late 1980s, Hillel underwent another transformation under the directorship