A Letter from Amherst Hillel

Amherst Hillel serves a number of roles on campus, roles as diverse as our own student body. We aim to enrich the lives of Jewish students and bolster meaningful, lasting connections with Jewish life and Israel. We work to foster a strong Jewish community on campus, one that welcomes Jews and non-Jews alike. We seek to educate and include the greater Amherst community in our celebrations of Jewish culture, Jewish faith and Jewish life. Above all, we strive to help students get in touch with and develop their Jewish identities, whether through religious services, cultural traditions, Friday night dinners or social events.

Last Saturday night, on the weekend preceding Israel’s Independence Day, Amherst Hillel hosted a party in the Powerhouse. It was planned to be an innovative program, modeled after Tel Aviv’s annual silent rave, which has grown in popularity across American college campuses. Our goal in hosting this celebration was to provide a fun and educational event so that Amherst students could learn about Israeli culture while unwinding on Saturday night. To that end, we advertised the dance with posters placed in Valentine’s atrium and elsewhere on campus. We were disheartened to discover that these posters were torn down and vandalized.

We understand that members of our campus community have passionate and widely divergent views on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. That said, it is entirely possible to express one’s dissenting opinions in a respectful manner. Hillel strongly supports freedom of speech but also expects student groups to retain control over their events’ purposes, moods and proceedings. While we believe students acted respectfully by silently entering our party on Saturday night, they subverted the event in a number of ways by staging a die-in. Students who were happily dancing quickly vacated as the environment became tense. We at Amherst Hillel advocate engaging in a productive conversation on the issues that surfaced this past weekend, rather than the tearing down of advertisements or the disruption of an event without consulting its organizers. Such a discussion would benefit the very Amherst community Hillel strives to serve and would help members craft their own informed opinions. Our organization is named after the rabbinic sage, Hillel, who was known for his desire for peace, respect for multiple viewpoints and concern for others. Amherst Hillel enjoys being part of a campus mosaic comprised of many cultural and religious groups. We aim to support members of our community during their time here while fostering a healthy learning environment. Our community might not always come to a consensus on the complicated issues at hand, but we should work together to create an environment where we feel equally valued and respected as we learn from one another.

Liam Fine ’17
Isa Goldberg ’17
Destin Groff ’17
Michael Harmon ’16
Nicholas Kafker ’17
Zoe Vayer ’16