Zach’s Hillel House Celebrates 70th Anniversary

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This year marks the 70th anniversary of Trinity College Hillel, an organization devoted to preserving a rich Jewish tradition while facilitating community at the College since 1948. Alumni of Trinity Hillel, current students, and members of the greater Trinity community, numbering about 130 in total, came together to celebrate at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York last Tuesday. Celebration will be ongoing throughout 2018, including a private screening of the film Who Will Write our Our History? by Roberta Grossman and Nancy Spielberg, based on the book by Professor Samuel Kassow ’66, Charles H. Northam Professor of History at Trinity College. In the fall, a celebration will be hosted by Hillel for the entire campus community.

The Tripod sat down with Lisa Kassow, Hillel Director and recent recipient of the 2017 Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award presented at Hillel International’s Global Assembly, to talk more about the organization’s history at Trinity.

Trinity Hillel started, says Kassow, “as a social to bring Jewish men together.” Its purpose was for Jewish men to “feel connected to each other.” Hillel, then, was created to help remedy a specific problem: Jewish students on campus did not feel totally welcomed, “apart,” in the community. In fact, Kassow said, one fraternity did not allow Jewish students to be admitted. However, Hillel kept on as a “comfortable place for Jewish students on campus.” Originally, the group met once a month in a one-bedroom apartment on Crescent Street in the living room, which could only hold about 16 people. As the community started to solidify, Hillel reached out to women’s colleges and organized “mixers,” according to Kassow. However, Hillel still did not have a central place which Jewish community members could call home. As Kassow puts it, Hillel’s story is “a story of continuity and need.”

That changed in 2002, with the building of Zachs Hillel House on Crescent Street. The House has allowed Hillel to grow into a resource for the entire campus community, hosting weekly Shabbat dinners on Friday and collaborating with various organizations, such as WGRAC and various fraternities and sororities, on to sponsor campus-wide events. Centralization of Hillel, then, has been integral to the organization’s success.

Hillel’s role now, says Kassow, is to move from the “particular to the universal.” In other words, Jewish life on campus has been centralized, but “a Jewish place needs to maintain the integrity of a Jewish experience and offer education to the student community.” Moreover, she says, the themes of Passover are universal: specifically, “slavery to freedom.” Jewish values of love and community, then, are endlessly applicable, seeing “what’s happening in the world.”

Going forward, Hillel’s mission is to combine tradition and history with flexibility and progress, and to “reflect the time we are living in.” Kassow urges the Jewish community to “be who they are but remain deeply connected.”

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