Acceptance of the IU Hillel Chaver Award

Helene G. Simon Hillel Center
Indiana University Bloomington
730 E. 3rd Street
Bloomington, Indiana
September 12, 2014

Introduction and Acknowledgements

Thank you very much, Rabbi Sue (Silberberg) and Elliot (Lewis).

I really am deeply honored to receive Hillel’s Chaver Award, and I am pleased that my wife, Laurie, Indiana University’s First Lady, could be here this evening as well.

I am also gratified and honored to be receiving this award as you prepare to celebrate Shabbat, a day of great significance for people of the Jewish faith and a time when the strong sense of community that exists within IU’s vibrant Jewish community is fully evident.

I want to express my thanks to Rabbi Sue and the members of Hillel’s governing board. Your devoted support for Jewish life on the IU Bloomington campus has touched the lives of so many students and it has helped Indiana University Hillel to grow into a nationally renowned center.

And, of course, the friendship symbolized by this award is reciprocal.

Hillel has been a great friend to Indiana University for many years.

Rabbi Sue, who is an IU alumna, has forged many close partnerships with IU staff members and administrators over many years, and the university has relied on her wise counsel in good times and in bad. She is one of the very few women to hold a senior position in the Hillel system, and she is a wonderful role model for students and her colleagues. 

Through the efforts of Rabbi Sue and so many of you who are here tonight, IU Hillel truly does serve as a welcoming “home away from home” for IU’s Jewish students, but it also stands as a beacon of understanding in the community.

Hillel embodies a strong commitment to pluralism, understanding, and diversity. These are also fundamental values of the academy. At the core of Indiana University is the deepest and most serious search for knowledge and understanding by our students and faculty—no matter where these explorations take them. We simply cannot pursue our core missions of creating new knowledge and of passing on and preserving existing knowledge without a true commitment to pluralism, understanding, and tolerant diversity.

As Hillel’s national leaders wrote in the mid-1940s, Hillel "operates on the principle that the patterns of Jewish life are important in the composite of western civilization, and that the university is enriched when it supplements the resources of the campus with the best in the Jewish tradition."1

These words are as true today as they were nearly 70 years ago when they were written.

As some of you may know, one of my predecessors, IU’s legendary eleventh president, Herman B Wells, played a major role in bringing Hillel to Indiana University. In 1938, he negotiated with Hillel’s national director to establish what would be just the twelfth university campus chapter of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation. His administration, as Professor Jim Capshew writes in his wonderful biography of President Wells, “was built on the foundation of tolerance for racial and ethnic differences. Focused on individual students and their needs, he celebrated diversity, fervently believing that the university had an obligation to be ecumenical in spirit as well as practice.”2

Within a few years of the establishment of Indiana University Hillel, the world was at war. Our very civilization, with all that is best and most valuable and noble about it, was, for perhaps the first time since the Mongol Conquests, seriously in danger of disappearing. Like many other American universities, Indiana University served as a refuge for scholars who were fleeing Europe to escape the unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Many of those scholars who came to IU helped to build the foundation for Bloomington’s vibrant Jewish community.

And during that tumultuous time, the IU Hillel Foundation was the very first to bring refugee students to an American campus.3 Those actions represent a chapter in the history of IU Hillel in which we can all take great pride—and it is a part of IU Hillel’s history that deserves to be more widely known.

The Indiana University Jewish Community

Since that time, the presence of Hillel at Indiana University has continued to help make IU a destination for students from around the world.

When the chapter was established in 1938, the total student population at IU was around 3,000 and there were an estimated 175 Jewish students.

Today, there are more than 4,000 Jewish students at IU Bloomington, and they are a vital part of the life of the university.

Our many Jewish alumni are among the university’s most active supporters. One only has to look across the university, at programs and facilities that bear the names of the Simon family, the late Eugene and Marilyn Glick, Bob and Sandra Borns, Bart Kaufman, and so many others, to see evidence of the extraordinary support that members of the Jewish community have given to Indiana University over the years. We are, as always, profoundly grateful for that support.

Many IU alumni also work in the field of Jewish communal service, and many of them got their start right here, working as student leaders alongside Rabbi Sue.

Academic Ties

I am, incidentally, aware of the importance to people of the Jewish faith of the concept of the return to Israel, or Aliyah. One of the first international trips I made as president of Indiana University was to Israel and the West Bank in 2008 as part of a delegation of American university presidents which had the aim of exploring closer academic and research ties between the two nations. I had the privilege to witness firsthand in Israel a vibrant, thriving democracy, and a nation with truly superb universities.

IU, in fact, has very strong ties to the Israeli academic community, including flourishing student exchange programs with several institutions, including the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A number of our faculty hold dual Israeli and American citizenship, and many more have strong research ties with colleagues in Israel. Each year, we welcome numerous Israeli students, scholars, lecturers, diplomats, and artists to IU.

We are also very fortunate to have at Indiana University one of only two university programs in the U.S. that engages in the serious and informed study of present-day antisemitism—our outstanding Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, which is part of IU’s new School of Global and International Studies. The only other comparable program in the U.S. is at Yale University.

IU’s institute is ably led by Professor Alvin Rosenfeld, the founder and former long-time director of our renowned Borns Jewish Studies Program, which is one of the largest, one of the oldest, and one of the very finest programs of its kind in the country.

Conclusion

So, once again, I am truly honored to accept this award, and in doing so, I accept it on behalf of Indiana University and senior colleagues past and present who have consistently stood, when it mattered, for the values and principles IU shares with Hillel and, I am sure, with all of you.

Let me express my most grateful thanks once again to Rabbi Sue Silberberg, the students, staff, and members of the governing board of Indiana University Hillel, and to all of you for being here tonight.

Thank you very much.

Source Notes

  1. 1945 Hillel Foundation brochure, Web, accessed September 9, 2014, URL: http://www.hillel.org/docs/default-source/historical/hillel-brochure-1945.pdf?sfvrsn=2
  2. James H. Capshew, Herman B Wells: The Promise of the American University, (Indiana University Press and Indiana Historical Society Press, 2012), 120-121.
  3. Ibid, 121.