Jewish Journal

Letters to the Editor: Hillel serves up diverse buffet and Orthodoxy dividing the community

Posted on Oct. 30, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Hillel Buffet Serves Up a Diverse Menu

Hillel at UCLA enjoys a good relationship with the local Chabad (“Sharing the Next Gen — Hillel and Chabad on Campus,” Oct. 25). The unconditional love they exhibit is indeed laudable, and it is true that Chabad’s free Friday night dinners influenced us to also offer our dinners for free. 

However, the recent cover story in the Jewish Journal comparing Hillel and Chabad on campus missed the essential differences between the organizations, their missions, and their measures of success.

Hillel provides a buffet of Jewish choices that range from the intensely religious to the Jewishly worldly. Our philosophy is: “Come to Hillel to taste all the Jewish delights.”

Do you want Torah and Talmud study? We have that. Do you want tikkun olam? We have that. Do you want Reform, Conservative and Orthodox prayer services? We have those, too. Do you want to learn about Jewish culture? Jewish history? Heschel? Soloveitchik? Freud? Einstein? Maimonides? We have them, as well.

Do you want Holocaust education? Israel advocacy? Leadership training? Jewish art exhibits? Conferences on important Jewish issues? Or how about just hanging out at our Coffee Bean to mingle with other Jews? We offer all of that, as well as social justice projects such as “Challah for Hunger,” “Swipes-for-the-Homeless” and building medical clinics in Northern Uganda.

This is not a Judaism that downplays tradition. To the contrary, our beit midrash pulsates with the rhythms of Jewish learning, and, with our glatt kosher cafeteria and daily minyanim, Hillel at UCLA has become home to the largest Orthodox campus community west of the Mississippi.

The point is this: Hillel at UCLA offers a broad, Big Tent Judaism that no one else offers. 

For the Jewish Journal to suggest that we are being influenced and even “changed” by a Jewish group whose programs and approach are completely different is not just unfair to us, it’s also unfair to our friends at Chabad.

Yes, we respect all methods of Jewish outreach, and, at the same time, we believe that our pluralistic, Jewish buffet offers the best hope of attracting Jewish students from across the spectrum.

This substantive pluralism is what distinguishes Hillel from other Jewish organizations, and it is our holistic formula for sustaining and growing a Jewish future. 

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Executive Director, UCLA Hillel and Rabbi Aaron Lerner, Senior Jewish Educator, UCLA Hillel

Orthodoxy Putting a Wedge Between Jews

It’s not a contest (“Why Orthodox Is Growing,” Oct. 25). Nobody “wins” when the overall number of Jews who practice and adhere to their religion is diminished. The Orthodox can easily “win the battle but lose the war” if they become so marginalized and exclusive that the rest of Jews fade away. Unless Orthodoxy exerts efforts to bridge the gap, it will find that there are a million Orthodox Jews in the United States and nobody who views them as “co-religionists” or “brothers” and that is a real small and totally insignificant minority except in Boro[ough] Park, Williamsburg and a few other minor American shtetlach.

Charles Hoffman via jewishjournal.com

Dennis Prager makes a number of thoughtful explanations for the group of Orthodox Judaism, but his connection of Orthodoxy and right-wing Conservatism is not one of them. Orthodox Jews can be found across the political spectrum. Here in Los Angeles, Orthodox Jewish men and women are challenging traditional approaches by infusing their Jewish life with more liberal approaches. By doing so, they have not undermined Orthodoxy or diminished their love for Israel. Just the opposite — their Ahavat Israel of Orthodox Jews or the left of the political spectrum has grown without any signs of the cynicism Prager associates with liberal Jews.

Elie Shapiro, North Hollywood

Dennis Prager responds: Elie Shapiro conflates liberalism in politics (“Orthodox Jews can be found across the political spectrum”) with liberalism within Judaism (“Orthodox Jewish men and women are challenging traditional approaches by infusing their Jewish life with more liberal approaches”). They have little to do with one another.
I, for example, welcome a more liberal approach to halachah. But the notion that Orthodox Judaism and leftism have much, if anything, in common is unsustainable. And since Mr. Shapiro did not cite any examples, I don’t know what left-wing positions he is referring to. Is Orthodoxy for redefining marriage as the left is? Is Orthodoxy anti-Israel, as most of the left here and in Europe is? Does Orthodoxy believe that people are basically good? Does it morally agree with abortion on demand?

There is a reason that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews are conservative. The reason is Orthodox Judaism.


An article on Hillels and Chabad (“Sharing the Next Gen,” Oct. 25) suggests that a “fundraising partnership” exists between Hillel at UCLA and the UCLA Foundation. In fact, there is no formal relationship or partnership between Hillel at UCLA and the UCLA Foundation.

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