Hillel President Agrees to Meet With J Street U

The students had criticized Fingerhut’s decision to withdraw from a speaking engagement at the J Street conference.

The audience during a session at the 2015 J Street conference.
The audience during a session at the 2015 J Street conference. Gili Getz

The president of the Jewish campus group Hillel agreed to a meeting with student activists from the liberal lobby J Street.

Eric Fingerhut wrote a letter Monday to Benjy Cannon, the board president of J Street’s campus organization, J Street U, in which he agreed to an on-the-record meeting between the students and members of Hillel International’s board of directors.

The students had made the request earlier in the day in a letter delivered to Hillel’s Washington headquarters during a protest conducted on the sidelines of J Street’s annual convention. The students had marched from the nearby Washington Convention Center to Hillel’s offices, where they criticized Fingerhut’s decision to withdraw from a speaking engagement at the conference, ostensibly because he found some of the other scheduled speakers to be problematic.

“We leave Washington on Tuesday afternoon. We ask that you let us know before then whether you will convene a meeting between the J Street U National Student Board and Hillel International’s Board of Directors to help ensure that Hillel’s priority is engaging seriously with students, or whether you will not help convene a meeting for Board Members and donors of Hillel to develop deeper relationships with the students that make up the Hillel community,” the students’ letter said.

In a separate letter on Sunday, Fingerhut said he was committed to working with students to make sure all feel welcome at Hillel. The campus group has struggled in recent years over its approach to Israel discourse on campus, with a small group of Hillel chapters openly declaring that they would not abide by the parent organization’s standards regarding Israel programming.

“The last few weeks have taught me that we still have work to do at the national level to ensure that all students feel fully welcome at Hillel,” Fingerhut wrote in his Sunday letter. “I want you to know that I am committed to making that happen. We also clearly have work to do in the Jewish community at large to be one people that respects, honors and celebrates its diversity rather than fearing it. This incident taught me just how deep the divide is. I don’t yet have all the answers to how we will bridge this divide, but as Hillel’s president, I am committed to working with you to find them and I have no doubt we will be successful.”