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Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life is an accredited international organization headquartered in Washington, DC. It was founded at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1923 under the auspices of B’nai B’rith, the world’s oldest Jewish service organization. By the mid-1980’s, Hillel had grown too big for B’nai B’rith to support so the parent organization cut its financial obligations to Hillel by 50 percent. During the 1990’s, Hillel underwent a full separation from B’nai B’rith and the organization was renamed Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Today, Hillel is active at over 550 university and college campuses worldwide, making it one of the largest Jewish campus organizations in the world. Hillel supports Jewish campus communities by offering a home away from home for Jewish students. Hillel programming focuses on tzedakah(1) and tikkun olam(2) projects, Jewish learning, and Israel.
The Vancouver branch of the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation was founded in 1946. In that year, David Chertkow, President of Vancouver B’nai B’rith Lodge, lobbied for the establishment of a Vancouver Hillel at a B’nai B’rith convention in California. Rabbi Judah Cohn, Pacific Regional Director for B’nai B’rith, came to the University of British Columbia to meet with community leaders and Jewish students, who had established a Menorah Society(3) on campus. The Society altered its constitution to become a Hillel councillorship. An army hut on campus was purchased from UBC and the refurbished building was dedicated as Hillel House in November 1947. Bud Gurevich was Hillel Vancouver’s first student president and Rabbi David Kogen of Congregation Beth Israel was hired as its first counselor.
In 1952, Cohn announced that Hillel Vancouver would be upgraded from a councillorship to a full-fledged Hillel Foundation, and Kogen became its first Director. Subsequent directors have included Rabbi Bernard Goldberg (1956-1960), Dr. Moses Steinberg (1960-?), Rabbi John Sherwood (1967-1968), Rabbi Marvin Hier (?-?), Daniel Siegel (?-1987), Dr. Mordehai Wosk (1987-1990) and Zac Kaye (1990-1995). As the first full-time director, Daniel Siegel established formal links with the UBC Chaplains and Simon Fraser University. He also expanded Hillel Vancouver’s mandate to include young adults at other post-secondary schools in the Greater Vancouver region, as well as those in the workforce. Hillel Vancouver expanded operations to Simon Fraser University in 2005 and to the University of Victoria in 2006.
1 Hebrew word literally meaning justice or righteousness but commonly used to signify charity, though it is a different concept than charity because tzedakah is an obligation and charity is typically understood as a spontaneous act of goodwill and a marker of generosity.
2 Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world" (or "healing the world") which suggests humanity's shared responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world.
3 Organized informally in 1923-1924, the Menorah Society became an officially affiliated student club at the University of British Columbia in 1928. The mandate of the society was to stimulate an interest in Jewish culture and the problems of daily Jewish life. The society’s meetings were held in the homes of members and its activities included papers, musical numbers, debates, and banquets. On occasion, debates would be held with other organizations such as the Menorah Society of the University of Washington.
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