A History of Hillel at Ithaca College
By: Austin Reid
Dedicated to all members of Hillel at Ithaca College both past and present.
Austin Reid: Ithaca, March 2020
The Earliest Years: Ithaca College’s Beginnings and its Emerging Jewish Community
Ithaca College was founded on September 19, 1892, as the Ithaca Conservatory of Music when the college’s first President W. Grant Egbert organized classes for students inside four rooms rented within a house located at 403 East Seneca St. At the time there were just ten faculty members numbering eight teachers and two lecturers. By 1894, the college’s enrollment increased, resulting in the school relocating into the Wilgus Opera House at the intersection of State and Tioga streets where Center Ithaca is now found. The opera house could seat around 1,000 people and it was located above Rothschild Bros. a department store whose founder, Jacob Rothschild was among the earliest Jewish residents of Ithaca. The college graduated its first class in 1897, which consisted of just two students M. Ethel Nichols and Kate Green. In 1910 the Ithaca Conservatory began to move out of rented quarters by purchasing the Boardman House, the institution’s first owned building, located at 120 East Buffalo St. One year prior in 1909 the Ithaca Conservatory had 12 students participate in its 17th annual commencement.
During these early years, it is not known how many Jewish students were enrolled at the Ithaca Conservatory of Music in-part because no official figures on student’s religious affiliation were kept by the Conservatory. Additionally, no organizations for Jewish students existed in Ithaca until the early 1900s. Zeta Beta Tau, the first Jewish fraternity at Cornell University, was not established until 1907 and the first organization for all Jewish students, regardless of their sex was not created until 1912 with the foundation of the Menorah Society. This organization was also based at Cornell University but likely included in its membership Jewish students studying at the Conservatory in downtown Ithaca. Bertha Bennett may have been one early member of the society as it is noted by the Cornell Daily Sun that she played the piano at one organizational meeting in March 1917. In January 1918 Bennett’s name is also listed among those performing a Conservatory concert at Cornell. Ruth Siegal is another Conservatory student who is recorded as being involved with the Menorah Society. In addition to finding community at Cornell, Jewish families in Ithaca, including the Bernstein’s and Gutstadt’s, were also known to host students in their own homes and include them in community programs. In 1906, High Holiday services were organized for the first time by the local Jewish leaders and these exercises likely included student participants. Jews are also likely to have been represented among the Conservatory faculty in its earliest decades. One of the first Jewish faculty members was likely Ms. S. P. Silverman, who is noted as having performed at a benefit concert in Cornell’s Bailey Hall for the Jewish War Relief Fund in April 1916. By highlighting these examples of early connections between Jewish students who were affiliated with either the Ithaca Conservatory of Music or Cornell University and the influence of members of the wider Jewish community in Tompkins County within the lives of students, a foundation is built through which to understand the future development of Jewish student life at Ithaca College. It is this development that ultimately led to the establishment and growth of Hillel on campus.
Signs of Growth: The First Efforts by Ithaca College Students to Develop Jewish Life.
By 1915, the Jewish community of Tompkins County began to organize to build a synagogue in Ithaca. These efforts were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I but resumed in earnest in 1924 when two modest-sized prayer communities Agudath Achim, an Orthodox group and Chevra Kadisha, a more liberal group, united to form a larger body, Beth-El. During this time it was estimated that only 50 Jewish families lived in Ithaca. Raising the necessary funds for the construction of a new synagogue was a herculean task accomplished in significant part through the support of local non-Jewish residents of Ithaca, alumni from Cornell University and parents of current students. During the fundraising campaign for the synagogue’s construction, the religious needs of Jewish students at Cornell and the Ithaca Conservatory were promoted as evidence of the significant need for a permanent Jewish place of worship locally. On Sunday, February 24th, 1929, Temple Beth-El was dedicated in a ceremony which included speeches by several Ithaca notables such as Mayor Fred Howe and Cornell President Livingston Farrand. Students from both Cornell and the Ithaca Conservatory also participated. It was reported by Once-A-Week, the Conservatory’s student news publication, that Hester Foster, Lillian Legro, and Virginia Jarvis were among the vocal students represented in the dedication chorus. Rabbi Isidor Hoffman served as both the first rabbi of Temple Beth-El and the first Director of the newly established B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation at Cornell. This arrangement by which Temple Beth-El and Hillel shared a rabbi lasted until 1942 and reflects the tie many Jewish students in Ithaca during the 1930s had to Beth-El.
During the 1930s Temple Beth-El served as the venue for many activities of interest to Jewish students, including “young people’s night” socials, student Shabbat services, holiday functions and receptions for first-year students. Social spaces for Jewish students were important during this time in-part because anti-Semitic discrimination was common at many American colleges and universities. Of particular note were Greek organizations whose national charters frequently barred Jews from membership. At least one Greek organization at the Conservatory, Phi Delta Pi, barred Jews from membership stating in its recruitment advertising, “While women only shall be eligible to membership to the Phi Delta Pi Fraternity, women of Jewish religion shall not be eligible.” Throughout the 1930s, the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation saw four directors come and go. Rabbi Hoffman stepped down as Director in 1932 to begin a Ph.D. program at Cornell. He was succeeded by Rabbi Maurice Pekarsky who held the title until 1937. Then Rabbi Ephraim Fischoff briefly served as Director until September 1939 when the Hillel Foundation welcomed a new Director to Ithaca, Rabbi David Polish. Rabbi Polish was a graduate of the University of Cincinnati and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He received his ordination in 1934 and is recorded as having engaged in interfaith work throughout Ithaca. Rabbi Polish also helped to establish the first Hillel organization which was distinct to what was by now called Ithaca College in November 1939.
It is not known how many Ithaca College students were affiliated with this new Hillel organization, but it was reported in October 1940 by B’nai B’rith that approximately 100 Jewish students were enrolled at Ithaca College. Rabbi Polish was also listed as Director of both Cornell Hillel and Ithaca College Hillel. Cornell Hillel was listed as a full-fledged Hillel foundation while Ithaca College was recognized as being among the 23 campuses included Hillel’s “Counselor Program.” During Hillel’s first year on campus, Evelyn Teper ‘40 served as President and Eleanor Kovitsky ‘42 served as Ithaca College’s representative to the national B’nai B’rith Hillel Council. One of the first activities organized by the group was an organizational choir under the leadership of Helene Cautin. “Participation together” between Jewish students at Ithaca College and Cornell University in all activities was also “strongly encouraged” by Rabbi Polish. While most of these collaborative events were held at Cornell or Temple Beth-El, some were hosted at Ithaca College. One example is the 1941 performance of “Margin for Error” which was held in the Little Theater at Ithaca College. Every actor in this show was a member of Hillel. In 1942 Rabbi Polish left Ithaca to serve as rabbi of Temple Israel in Waterbury, Connecticut and was succeeded by Judah Shapiro. Shapiro’s time in Ithaca was not long, however, as he was reassigned by B’nai B’rith to Massachusetts in 1943 where he went on to serve as the first Director of Harvard Hillel. By 1944 Hillel’s presence in Ithaca developed significantly enough that the Cornell Chapter of the Hillel Foundation purchased its first piece of property, a house located at 106 Lake Street. One of the guests invited to the dedication of the new Hillel house was Professor Isadore Yavits, a physical education instructor at Ithaca College. This too demonstrates the ongoing involvement of members of the Ithaca College community in the evolution of Hillel.
Challenges & Change: Jewish Life for Ithacans in the Late 1940s and Early 1950s
While the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation managed to expand its physical presence at Cornell, the World War II years were a challenging time for many institutions in Ithaca including Ithaca College. President Leonard Job even discussed possibly closing Ithaca College for the duration of the war due to low enrollment. During these years, it is likely that Hillel faded as a distinct organization at Ithaca College. No printed reference to the group is found either in The Cornell Daily Sun or Ithacan between 1942 and 1946. Jewish students at Ithaca College during these years likely frequented the new Hillel House at Cornell or Temple Beth-El if they desired organized activities for Jewish students. Wartime also brought hundreds of servicemen to Ithaca to participate in officer training programs at Cornell. Ithaca’s Jewish community did its part to ensure their needs were met. Temple Beth-El served as a venue for affairs such as “Servicemen’s Canteen” and numerous socials. At least one of these socials, a dance held in January 1944, was organized in part by three Ithaca College students, Bryna Goodman, Enid Kronick, and Sheryl Siegel. With the end of World War II fortunes improved at Ithaca College and by 1946 enrollment had doubled to 1,148 students. Of these students, 725 were veterans. In 1946 Ithaca College students were back to performing plays through Hillel. By 1947 Hillel was formally known as the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation of Cornell University and Ithaca College reflecting the organization’s reach within both campus communities.
Hillel activities during the late 1940s included holiday celebrations, Shabbat services and talks. Dances were also a frequent activity. Many had informal themes including “Old Clothes Party”, “Stag Stomp Dance’, and “Hayloft Dance”. Instructions were sometimes given to prohibit entry to anyone wearing formal attire to these dances. These dances were also often held in Hillel’s new location at 504 Stewart Ave. It is not known when or why this move occurred, but it is possible that this change in location was influenced by a desire to establish a center that was more easily accessible to both Cornell and Ithaca College students. Until 1961 Ithacans primarily lived and studied in downtown Ithaca. During a dance on Saturday, February 24th, 1948, an anti-Semitic incident occurred at the Hillel House, which drew widespread attention and condemnation throughout the Ithaca community. That Saturday evening Hillel members from Cornell and Ithaca College along with their friends were socializing on the first and second floors of the building. At some point during the party, an individual or a small group entered the basement game room and cut the word “Jew” into the baize cloth of a new billiard table. Rabbi Maurice Schatz Hillel’s Director at the time stated in an interview with The Ithaca Journal that the incident “cannot be shrugged off as a boyish prank.” He went on to add that it disturbed Jewish students and their feelings of “confidence in their fellow men.” This incident also occurred about 12 months after someone had thrown a rock through the Hillel House window during a meeting nearly hitting a non-Jewish student. While no one was found guilty of the vandalism, the incident was condemned by many non-Jewish residents of Ithaca, including Reverend Budd of the First Methodist Church and the members of the Home Bureau in Tompkins County who collected funds for a donation to Hillel. This event shows that while anti-Semitic feelings continued in the Ithaca community, such views were becoming more marginal. Later that same year, in September 1948 Hillel welcomed a new Director to Ithaca, Rabbi Morris Goldfarb. Rabbi Goldfarb arrived in Ithaca from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he served as Counselor to Jewish students at Lehigh and Moravian universities. He worked with Jewish students in Ithaca for the next 32 years until his retirement in 1980.
By the early 1950s, some of the challenges faced by Jewish students at Ithaca College also began to gain wider attention. One of the most pressing concerns was the lack of meal options that respected even the most rudimentary of kosher laws. In April 1952 one Jewish student, Phyllis Zypes ‘55, wrote an op-ed in The Ithacan protesting the “over favorite choice” of pork at the college’s sole dining room, which prohibited some Jewish students from eating there. Zypes also pointed out that while Ithaca College had instituted some dining policies to respect the dietary needs of some Christians, such as serving fish on Friday, no similar consideration was demonstrated to Jewish students. Zypes, Carolyn Feldman and Jerry Silverman, were all elected as Hillel council representatives for Ithaca College students in April 1952. Feldman was also later elected as both Hillel Secretary and Treasurer while Silverman was elected Chairman of Membership. Installation was held at the Hotel Statler. Hillel’s student leadership continued to organize cultural, religious and social programming. One particularly interesting program was a Coronation Ball held on April 11, 1953, which included a beauty contest. Zypes was one of the contestants for Beauty Queen, but ultimately the title went to Evelyn Barber of Cornell. Movie screenings also became more common. One screening sponsored by Hillel was of the 1947 film Gentlemen’s Agreement directed by Elia Kazan. This film explored how anti-Semitic prejudices continued to influence American society. It also reflected both the ongoing challenges Jews faced integrating themselves into a predominantly Christian society and a new willingness on the part of many non-Jews to confront their own anti-Jewish biases.
Rededication: The Rebirth of Hillel at Ithaca College
After eight years of operating in full union with the Cornell Hillel Foundation, some Ithaca College students began to feel that their Hillel chapter should become more independent. This desire led to a meeting called by Dr. Jack Gelfand at the Aurora Street Gym Lecture Hall for all interested Jewish students on February 21, 1955. The result of this meeting was the formation of an autonomous Hillel organization on campus. Dr. Gelfand, an Assistant Professor in the School of Business, served as the organization's first faculty advisor and Bob Ross was appointed as temporary President until formal elections could be held. The first I.C. Hillel event to be organized was a “Bagel and Lox Lunch” held on March 6th at Temple Beth-El. Other social events sponsored by the nascent organization included Sunday informal dances at Temple Beth-El, theater parties, bowling matches, and skating outings. Attendance at Friday night services was also “stressed” for members. By December 1955 Hillel’s board of officers had expanded to three individuals. Marsha Bear served as Secretary, Alan Berkowitz served as Treasurer and Bob Ross continued as President. In January 1956 elections were held for an expanded board of officers. David Sass was elected President, Art Zodikoff as Vice President, Elaine Ruther as Recording Secretary, Barbara Heller as Corresponding Secretary, and Larry Etkiad as Treasurer. The 1956 edition of The Cayugan, an annual yearbook at Ithaca College, included a photo of Hillel members and noted that the organization “very often teams up with Cornell Hillel for debates, dances, breakfasts, and lectures.” 17 students are included in the yearbook photo.
Interfaith activities were also a significant component of Hillel’s efforts on campus. The largest interfaith program Hillel participated in during the 1950s was Religious Emphasis Days. This event was first held on November 12th and 13th, 1956, and it was cosponsored by many campus organizations including the Inter-Religious Conference. Students who participated had the opportunity to learn from clergy of several different denominations as they explained their beliefs. David Sass assisted Rabbi Felix Aber of Temple Beth-El during the two-day program as he presented information on Jewish customs and observances to the campus community. The theme of the first Religious Emphasis Days was “Your Faith and Mine.” The Inter-Religious Activities Council (IRAC) was another interfaith organization active on campus during the late 1950s. This group formed in late 1956 following conversations begun during Religious Emphasis Days. Its members strove to “promote better understanding among different religions and religious groups.” Hillel, the Newman Club and the Canterbury Club were all founding members of IRAC. The Newman Club was a Catholic student organization while the Canterbury Club was an organization primarily composed of Episcopalian and Greek Orthodox students. David Scotch served as the first Hillel student representative on the IRAC and Dr. Gelfand and Rabbi Goldfarb were also included on the Executive Committee. The organization would go on to organize new campus-wide programs such as Brotherhood Week and to continue activities for Religious Emphasis Days. Its members also promoted smaller initiatives to increase religious education on campus. Two efforts the organization encouraged were increasing the number of religious-themed books in the campus library and advocating for more religious studies courses on campus. The group also spoke of the need for designated office space where chaplains could provide counsel to students. The interest many Hillel members had in engaging in interfaith work can be seen in the description given to the organization in the 1957 edition of The Cayugan which noted the group’s commitment to participating in discussions concerning various religions. The yearbook also noted that Hillel continued to sponsor “less intellectual” activities such as dances. In spring 1957 the Hillel officers were as follows, Barbara Heller, President, Howard Hammer, Vice President, Eleanor Rosenthal, Secretary, and Arthur Cohen, Treasurer.
During the final years of the decade, Hillel at Ithaca College continued to organize religious, cultural, and social programs. These events often utilized space at Temple Beth-El. Some notable programs included, a dance to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the State of Israel, “Bagels n’ Lox” lunches and participating in WICB’s “Champion Quiz” trivia tournament. Hillel members also participated in charitable activities. One such activity was the Christmas Basket project led by the Welfare Department of the City of Ithaca and Women’s Student Government. Hillel was one of several student organizations to design a basket of gifts that was given to a local family in need. During the ‘58 - ‘59 academic year the officers for Hillel were, Ruben Marshall, a Physical Education major from Rochester serving as President, Sue Turer, a Language major from Bronxville, NY, serving as Vice President, Norma Harris a Physical Education major from Brooklyn serving as Secretary, and Morty Weinstein a Business Major from Brooklyn serving as Treasurer. In 1959 Hillel also welcomed a new Faculty Advisor Dr. Alfred Krissel who was an Assistant Professor of Economics and Business. During the 59’ - 60’ academic year the officers for Hillel were: Rubin Marshall, President, Dave Scheuer and Arnie Reif, each serving as Vice President, Joan Herman, Secretary, and Richard Moss, Treasurer. A programmatic theme emphasized by Hillel during the final academic year of the decade was creating common interests for Jews of diverse backgrounds.
A Decade of Growth: Hillel and the South Hill During the 1960s
1961 was a significant year in the history of Ithaca College. This year marked the beginning of the South Hill campus and the transition of student life from being an inseparable part of downtown Ithaca to a more removed element of the city’s social fabric. The impacts of this removal from downtown were also felt by Hillel. Events were held at Temple Beth-El less frequently as the decade progressed and by 1970 there are no more records of Hillel hosting student functions at the synagogue. Ithaca College’s relocation likely contributed to a final split between Hillel members at Cornell and Ithaca College. In the early 1960s, Hillel again existed as one organization for all students within the city of Ithaca. The 1963 edition of The Cayugan yearbook stated that the Hillel organization on campus operated in conjunction with the Hillel Foundation of Cornell University to sponsor a variety of educational, religious and social activities for students. Educational classes included courses on choral singing, folk dancing and Hebrew. Guest speakers in 1963 included Eugene Borowitz, a philosopher and editor of the journal Sh’ma, and Will Herberg, a Jewish social philosopher and theologian. By 1965, however, the two campus student bodies once again split and this split has endured into the 21st century. On March 19, 1965, Robert Zuckerman, a past Treasurer for Hillel, published a letter in The Ithacan that purported to address some of the underlying tensions between Hillel members at Cornell and Ithaca College. In his letter, Robert remarked that “I.C. Hillel is the Jewish students. Anything which may be done, or not done, for these students is done by them, not by any outside organization.” It was also noted by Zuckerman that Rabbi Goldfarb allegedly prevented Jewish students “from organizing any progressive movement which they may want.” Yet, the primary reason for the organization’s split was not due to this limitation. Rather, it was related that the Executive Council of Cornell Hillel had snubbed a recent Ithaca Hillel President by telling her “she had no right to speak on the council.” This allegedly occurred despite a clause found within the Hillel Constitution at the time which mandated that the Executive Council must include at least two members from Ithaca College. After this incident, described as “the straw that broke the camel’s back” the Jewish students at Ithaca College according to Zuckerman decided to leave and form their own organization.
No record exists of any letter from Cornell Hillel rebutting Zuckerman’s comments. It is therefore impossible to get a complete picture of what happened at the Executive Council meeting. It is possible, however, to find some inaccuracies in Zuckerman’s letter. For example, it was stated that all elements of Jewish life at Ithaca College were student-led. Yet, it is recorded that Rabbi Goldfarb held office hours in Dorm 3 on campus regularly since at least 1963 providing pastoral care for students. It is also known that a Hillel library was created on campus by 1963. The resources in this library were not compiled by students. Cornell and Ithaca College also continued to share Jewish chaplains through Hillel into the 1970s. The break between Cornell and Ithaca College Hillel was likely not entirely the result of interpersonal disputes, but also a development from the new physical distancing of each campus community as more Ithaca College lived outside the city of Ithaca. While it was once possible to offer Hillel programs in locations easily accessible for both campus communities, these became harder during the 1960s. It is also known that during the 1960s Jewish enrollment at Ithaca College increased significantly. While it is not recorded how many Jews were at Ithaca College at this time, the population was significant enough that one local business, Charjan’s, took out advertisements in The Ithacan reminding students to purchase their high holiday cards. This increase in Jewish enrollment also likely played a part in the move back towards an autonomous Hillel chapter at the college.
While the 1960s brought many changes to Hillel several organizational traditions that continue into 2020 also had their beginnings during this decade. One tradition is hosting an annual bagels and lox brunch during Parent’s Weekend. The first Parent’s Weekend brunch, which was held on October 24, 1965. Dr. Safardi, a former Ithaca College instructor, was a guest speaker. Another Hillel tradition that began in 1965 was hosting an annual seder on campus. Students staying in Ithaca for Passover prior to 1965 either attended seders organized at off-campus venues such as the Odd Fellows Hall on Trumansburg Road or in private homes. The first seder at Ithaca College was held on April 16 in the College Union building. The food was catered by Lou G. Siegel Incorporation, a kosher caterer out of New York City. Ithaca College’s Dining Services provider at the time, Saga Food Service worked with Hillel to provide kosher for Passover meals on campus throughout the holiday These meals were provided again in 1966. During that year meals were priced at $2.60 for students affiliated with Hillel and $2.75 for non-affiliated students. Adjusting for inflation, $2.60 equals around $20.78 in 2019.
As the number of Jewish students grew at Ithaca College some of the challenges associated with observing Judaism on campus subsided. One area which continued to present difficulty for some students, however, was obtaining excused absences from class to observe Jewish holidays. Some alumni of Ithaca College who graduated during the 1950s and 1960s express that they never encountered any difficulty from professors when they shared that they would have to miss class for religious reasons. Others, however, reported different experiences. On October 20, 1967, Susan Kutel published a letter in The Ithacan that highlighted the challenges some Jewish students faced if they chose to miss classes on major Jewish holidays. Significantly, the letter pointed out that a discrepancy appeared to exist between a memo distributed by President Dillingham advising faculty of the importance of Jewish holidays and the understanding Hillel student leadership had of college policy regarding religious exemptions which was discussed with them one month prior. These student leaders believed that they had been promised by President Dillingham that Jewish students would be excused from classes on religious holidays if they spoke to their professors individually. The memo distributed to faculty, however, made no reference to this guarantee and professors on campus, it was stated, widely understood the memo to mean that religious holidays were unexcused absences. President Dillingham’s memo also related that Rabbi Goldfarb, the Jewish Chaplain on campus, had been consulted during its composition. Rabbi Goldfarb, however, denied that he had been consulted by the President one day after it was released. On October 2nd Hillel student leaders created a petition asking that “the Jewish students at IC be excused from classes on the High Holidays.” By October 3rd this petition was signed by 650 students, both Jewish and non-Jewish. When presented with the petition on October 3rd, it was reported by Kutel that President Dillingham remarked that the document was “probably signed by students who just wanted to get out of class”. He also allegedly shared that students who are dissatisfied with college policy should transfer schools and that students had no right to question or try to change college policy. No response to Kutel’s letter was published, and no other perspectives on the incident were made public. It is known, however, that it would be another 12 years before Ithaca College formalized a policy stating that students who miss classes due to the observance of religious holidays should not be penalized, but rather given “ample opportunity to make up missed work.” It was also established in 1979 that faculty should not schedule examinations on Yom Kippur, both days of Rosh Hashanah, Good Friday, and Easter. Faculty were also asked to avoid scheduling any exams during the day immediately following a designated holiday.
By the late 1960s, high holiday services were being held on campus. This was made possible in part by the addition of Rabbi George Sobelman to the staff of Hillel. Rabbi George as he liked to be called by students served as both Assistant Jewish Chaplain at I.C. and Associate University Chaplain at Cornell. He also served as the official campus advisor to Hillel. Rabbi George grew up in Manhattan, graduated from Yeshiva High School, and spent four years studying in Jerusalem before moving to Ithaca to begin graduate school at Cornell. Rabbi George was also an enthusiastic supporter of adding Jewish Studies courses at Ithaca College. In one interview with The Ithacan, he remarked “We learn all about the Judeo-Christian heritage of America. But what happened to the Judeo?” While Ithaca College had two Jewish chaplains on staff in the late 1960s, it is debatable whether or not they enjoyed the same accommodations as those afforded to Christian chaplains. In the same Ithacan piece it was remarked by the author that Rabbi Sobelman occupied “a small table engulfed by the spacious offices of the Catholic and Protestant organizations.” Care had to be taken to not overlook him. Nevertheless, by spring 1969 Jewish students at Ithaca College could count on having a dedicated chaplain on campus four out of seven days of the week.
By 1967 some Hillel events had grown quite large. One of the biggest events was the Family Weekend brunch, which was now attended by over 200 people. In spring 1968 Hillel’s newly reorganized Student Board embarked on a project to revamp the organization’s programming. This included organizing a “moonlight” cruise on Cayuga Lake and screening a new thriller film “Wait Until Dark” starring Audrey Hepburn. The organization’s traditional social, religious, and “delicatessen-style” supper programs continued as well. Hillel members also participated in political and humanitarian advocacy. In December 1969 Hillel participated in a national campaign to compel Syria to release two Israeli citizens that were being held hostage in the country due to an aircraft hijacking. By 1970, Ithaca College had become visible enough in the Hillel movement that a state-wide Hillel conference was held on campus. In 1969 discussions were also taking place on campus highlighting the need for a dedicated religious space for students. Out of consideration for Jewish customs, it was decided early on that the design for this building should not include a steeple. Yet, it would still be seven years before these discussions resulted in the dedication of Muller Chapel, a building Hillel would call its home into the 21st century.
A Place to Call Home: The Creation of Muller Chapel and Other Developments During the 1970s
The 1970s brought many changes to Hillel and Ithaca College as a whole. South Hill continued to develop and the college enrollment expanded. 1970 marked the beginning of Rabbi Michael Sternfield’s brief time as Assistant Chaplain. Sternfield came to Ithaca while on a year of leave from Hebrew Union College. He led small group discussions on campus and helped to organize Shabbat dinners in the Union Dining Hall. During the ‘71 - ‘72 academic year, Robert Loewy served as Assistant Chaplain. Before beginning his time at Hillel, Loewy was the National Vice President of the National Federation of Temple Youth. During his time on campus, Shabbat dinners were held in the DeMotte Room inside Campus Center. Loewy also reestablished the tradition of Hillel organizing Shabbat services for students after a hiatus of several years. Services were held in the Chaplain’s Office coffee house and they alternated between “traditional” and “liberal” styles of worship. Informal singing and dancing were also incorporated into the ritual. In 1972 Loewy left Ithaca to enroll in Hebrew Union College. Students also began discussions with college administrators about hiring a full-time rabbi on campus.
By 1973 over sixty students were attending Shabbat dinners in DeMotte. New holiday observances were also offered, including a midnight Selichot service. Peter Kussell served as Assistant Chaplain during the ‘73 - ‘74 academic year. During the early 1970s, Hillel partnered with Ithaca College to offer a kosher meal plan on campus. Students who signed up for the meal plan had frozen meals shipped into Ithaca. A kosher kitchen, however, was not provided on campus. Before this time the only period in which kosher food was offered on campus was during Passover. By 1974, it appears that the kosher meal plan became defunct. Hillel at Ithaca College also partnered with Cornell Hillel during the early 70s to offer spring and summer student trips to Israel. While an organization called Sherut La’am placed advertisements in The Ithacan inviting students to travel to Israel as early as 1967, it seems that it was not until the early 1970s that Hillel at Ithaca College began to be actively involved in sending students to Israel. In August 1974, Anita Ehrenfried began serving as Hillel counselor. Hillel had 800 dues-paying members at this time. Anita moved to Ithaca so that her husband could enroll in a master’s program at Cornell. Hillel programs during fall 1974 included Israeli dance classes, Hebrew classes, brunches and film screenings. The annual Parent’s Weekend bagels and lox brunch was attended by over 100 people.
In August 1976 Muller Chapel was opened. While owned by Ithaca College, Muller Chapel would become home to the college’s three affiliated religious communities. At the time of its opening, the chapel hosted services for Catholic, Jewish and Protestant students. The first Shabbat service in the chapel was held on Friday, September 03, 1976. Muller Chapel was built to honor and remember Herman Muller, who was Chairman of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees for 15 years from 1950 to 1965. Herman was killed in an auto accident along with his wife Florence Muller on Saturday, October 23, 1965. Weldon Powell, another Board of Trustees member, and his wife Mary Powell were also killed in the accident. The group at the time was enroute from Ithaca to New York City. They had visited Ithaca to participate in the dedication of the Leonard B. Job Administrative Building. Another tragedy also visited Ithaca College that same month. On October 30, 1965, a fire at the Delta Sigma Pi house at 502 N. Aurora St. took the lives of two students, Bruce Edward Robke, a sophomore and Jon C. Zuris, a senior. To honor their friends, members of classes of ‘66 and ‘68 collected money for Muller Chapel. The construction of Muller Chapel did not take place without controversy. In particular, there was some concern that the college’s chaplains “weren’t consulted as much as they could have been with regard to the chapel’s construction.” The chaplains noted that the chapel lacked sufficient office space for private meetings with students, and some thought the space too inflexible. The cost of the new chapel was between $625,000 and $650,000.
1976 also marked the arrival of Jane Camhi on campus. Camhi was Hillel at Ithaca College’s first paid professional staff member who was not shared with Cornell Hillel. In addition to her work within the Jewish community, Camhi also helped to develop the first women’s studies program at Cornell and she was a feminist historian. Camhi also wrote or co-wrote several original plays, including Mrs. Satan which tells the story of Victoria G. Woodhull, an early women’s rights leader. She taught classes to students on the Bible, Judaism and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Camhi also helped to create Ithaca College’s Jewish Studies program which continues to be an active part of campus life into the 21st century. One of the largest Hillel programs during the late 1970s was the annual Israel Awareness Week. This initiative featured guest speakers, film screenings and presentations. In February 1977 Daniel Mokady, a representative from the Consulate General of Israel in New York City spoke in Textor Hall. In 1978 Yaacov Orland, author of Peace in the Middle East and Cultural Co-existence spoke on campus. A highlight of the week each year was an “Israeli Nightclub Night” at Union Crossroads. During its first year in 1977 performances were given by Larry “The Fine” Feinberg, Lisa Kohn, Cathy Solmasy, Eric Roberts, and Sue Rising. Mike Weinstein and Marsha Polenberg also sang Hassidic folk songs.
Sponsoring programs like Israel Awareness Week required funding. Hillel was supported financially in significant part through membership dues, which were charged to students directly. In the late 1970s, the cost of being a member of Hillel was $5.00 annually. A deal was also available through which a student could pay $15.00 at once and enjoy membership for all four years. $5.00 would translate to about $21.00 after adjusting for inflation in 2019. Funding also allowed Hillel to publish its own student newsletter. This publication advertised Hillel’s weekly Shabbat services, every Friday at 6:30 PM, as well as music nights, bowling nights, and dinner discussions. Hillel also hosted an annual Hanukkah party. In 1979, gifts were auctioned off at the Hanukkah party as a fundraiser for Hillel and Hannah Cohen, an eight-year-old Israeli girl who Hillel “adopted” that year. Jewish students also organized themselves to ensure their religious needs were met. On Sunday, October 15, 1978, Parent’s Weekend, a “Jewish Awareness Rally” was held outside of Egbert Union to promote a more responsive attitude among college administrators to the needs of Jewish students. Approximately 125 people attended the rally, including administrators, faculty, parents and students. The major goals of the rally were to persuade administrators to mandate that absences due to religious observances not be penalized and to prohibit exams during the High Holidays. Attendees also advocated for commencement exercises to alternate between Saturday and Sunday and for an eventual reorganization of the academic calendar so that Ithaca College would be on break during the High Holidays. Speakers during the rally included Marty Brownstein, Assistant Professor and Chairperson of the Politics Department, Rich Yelen a third-year student and Howard Erlich, Assistant Dean for Academic Support Services in the School of Humanities and Sciences. At the time it was estimated that approximately one-third of Ithaca College students or about 1,500 people were Jewish.
Following the rally, several Jewish students organized the “Committee for Jewish Awareness” which led a letter-writing campaign directed at the President of Ithaca College, James Whalen. The committee also created a petition to advocate that the academic calendar be adjusted so that no classes or exams fall on the High Holidays. On May 8, 1979, the President’s Cabinet approved a new religious accommodation policy which ensured that students would no longer be penalized for missing classes due to religious observance. It was also formalized that exams should not be scheduled on Yom Kippur, both days of Rosh Hashanah, Good Friday, Easter or during any day immediately following a designated holiday. Absences for religious observances, however, were still officially considered unexcused. Students in all classes were allowed three unexcused absences per semester. Taking an unexcused absence to observe a holiday, therefore, left Jewish students with fewer days to use in the event of an illness. Despite this, the new policy represented a significant advance for Jewish students at Ithaca College. Camhi worked with the President’s Cabinet to secure these changes. During her time at Ithaca College Camhi also helped to guide Hillel’s members through other challenges. Some of these included navigating the role of women in religious services, finding ways to make Jewish traditions relevant to the modern world, and addressing religious apathy. Camhi also helped Jewish students address a Christian religious group called Messianic Jews for Christ, which was distributing religious literature on campus and, according to one Hillel member Doug Baum, “stereotyping Jews in unfavorable ways.” The Anti-Defamation League ultimately was called on to investigate the group. While Camhi often worked 60 hours a week with Hillel, she was only paid a part-time salary. Hillel’s operating budget during her years on campus, however, did not allow for a full-time director to be hired. In 1982 Camhi announced she would be resigning from her role at the end of the academic year to make aliyah to Israel. After serving as Director of Hillel for six years she expressed that moving to Israel represented a spiritual opportunity for her and a direction in life she would be meaningfully challenged in. By March advertisements were being sent out requesting applications for a new “Half Time Director” of Hillel at Ithaca College. The job description mentioned that the new Director would “conduct services, supervise social-cultural programming, counsel and teach. A starting salary for the job was set between $7,000 and $10,000 annually, which would amount to between $18,700 and $26,800 in 2019.
The Arrival of Michael Faber: Hillel’s Longest Serving Director
In August 1982 Michael Faber began his time as Director of Hillel. Before this role, he had worked in Canada before moving to Ithaca in 1979. Between 1979 and 1982 he filled various contract jobs within the local Jewish community. Faber would serve as Director for 31 years until his retirement in May 2013. This length of service makes him the longest-running Director of Hillel at Ithaca College. While Faber was initially hired part-time, he was able to become full-time during the academic year by 1983. This also makes him the first full-time Hillel staff member to have worked exclusively with Ithaca College. The addition of a full-time staff member caused Hillel’s activities to expand significantly on campus. Faber offered classes to students on a variety of topics including Hebrew, Kabbalah, and the Jewish calendar. He also led discussions on current events and the weekly Torah portion. During the 1980s Hillel members met weekly in Muller Chapel and organized a variety of social activities including, a backgammon tournament, pizza parties, skating outings, and theater socials. The Hillel chapters at Cornell and Ithaca College also played one another in sports including baseball and volleyball. Each year an ice cream social was also held at the beginning of the fall semester. These programs were often advertised in Hillel’s newsletter The Jewish Connection. In 1984 it was estimated by Faber that 25 percent of Ithaca College students were Jewish. Of this population, 20 percent were formal, dues-paying members of Hillel. Many Jewish participated in Hillel activities without formally becoming members.
By the late 1980s, Hillel began to sponsor more elaborate programs on campus. In 1987, Faber led a summer tour of Israel for students. Participants paid $1,550 for the experience. Hillel also sent students to Washington D.C. on December 06, 1987, to participate in Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jews. This national march and political rally drew over 200,000 participants and it remains the largest political march ever organized by American Jewish organizations in Washington D.C. The goal of the march and rally was to increase global awareness of the plight of Soviet Jews, especially those who sought to emigrate from the Soviet Union. Earlier in the year, Hillel members organized a rally on Ithaca College’s campus in support of Soviet Jews to mark National Solidarity Day. This rally was held on February 26, 1987, in the lobby of Egbert Union. Ithaca College’s estimated 1,400 Jewish students also had opportunities to participate in weeklong programs, including Jewish Awareness Week and Israel Awareness Week. Events during Jewish Awareness Week in 1988 included a workshop that recreated the experience of immigrating through Ellis Island and a public discussion of the harmful use of the term JAP (Jewish American Princess) on campus. Attendees at programs during Israel Awareness Week could be expected to learn about Ithaca College’s new Friends of Israel student group and to find ways to travel to Israel through the Israel Programs Fair.
Hillel also engaged in many interfaith activities during Faber’s first eight years on campus. Some of these initiatives focused on providing for needs within Tompkins County. One annual program was a Christmas toy drive. In 1988, this drive collected over 500 toys that were donated to local children. Another annual event was a two-day interfaith retreat called “Worship in the Woods”. This program was organized in partnership with the Interfaith Council, an organization formed in 1984. Remembering the Holocaust was also an important motivator for interfaith and inter-organizational collaboration. On April 14, 1988, Hillel, The African Latin Society (ALS), Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA), Catholic Community, and Protestant Community all co-sponsored a Holocaust remembrance event on Yom HaShoah. This commemoration included a speech from Michael Faber at an initial gathering in front of Campus Center followed by a silent candlelight walk to Muller Chapel. Six lanterns were also lit before the walk to represent the six million Jews that were killed during the Holocaust. These were also carried to Muller Chapel. All participants wore black armbands. Hillel continued to organize similar vigils into the 1990s. In 1989, an event was also held to mark the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht. It appears that it was not until the mid-1980s that large-scale programming began to be held to commemorate the Holocaust. This development certainly had several motivating factors, including the increasing public awareness that Holocaust survivors were aging and that there was a need to carry on and remember their stories.
Another significant contribution Hillel made to Ithaca College’s Jewish community during the late 1980s was advocating for kosher meal options on campus and managing an annual kosher for Passover kitchen. Beginning in 1988 a pilot program was launched through which kosher meals were served on Friday nights in the West Terrace Upper Dining Hall. The program began with nine students registered. Before this Hillel organized its own kosher Shabbat meals once every three weeks in the East Tower kitchen. Hillel also began operating a kosher for Passover kitchen in 1988. This kitchen was run cooperatively by Faber and Jewish students. Reflecting on the experience, Faber wrote:
I bought all kinds of cooking utensils, ordered and purchased all of the food, planned the menus, and cooked the entire week twice a day. The seders were packed. We even got to use the meal plans of students, and for those not on meal plans the food was free. It was always an extremely exhausting yet rewarding week for me. I was very happy when we finally got kosher dining in place, and I could stop doing what was clearly an insane amount of work. It was also a great week for engagement activity, as there were many students not normally involved who turned out for meals.
Jewish students who observed Passover’s dietary restrictions were permitted to substitute their standard meal plan for a kosher meal plan during the duration of the holiday in order to eat at Hillel’s Passover kitchen. Hillel served brunch and dinner daily, and the kitchen functioned until 1994, the year Kosher Kitchen was established at Ithaca College. In the early years of Hillel’s kosher for Passover kitchen students would eat in the East Tower, but as it grew the location was moved to Emerson Hall lounge.
In 1989 The Cayugan remarked on Hillel’s increased and active membership. This capped off a decade of especially strong growth for the organization. Amid this growth, Hillel did not lose the hamish spirit enjoyed by members in earlier times. One contemporary view of Hillel was offered in the 1986 edition of The Cayugan in which an anonymous author wrote:
(Hillel is) much more than simply a club. Through our many activities and programs we learn, experience and share together. We all feel we have formed a friendship through our community. Our projects and programs brought us together religiously, educationally, socially and culturally… Hillel means something different to each of us… The unique bond of our group is expressed through our programs, activities and experiences. Warmth and love are especially essential in a campus environment and I strongly feel that our community has and will continue to go a long way in providing some of the warmth.
Into the New Millennium: Hillel’s Activities in the 1990s
In 1991 Hillel at Ithaca College was officially chartered by B’nai B’rith as a full-fledged campus foundation. Before this Hillel at Ithaca College was acknowledged for many years by B’nai B’rith as a councilor campus. This change in national status recognized that Hillel held a significant place in the life of Ithaca College. Its activities were also viewed by B’nai B’rith as an example of excellence for other Hillel chapters across the United States. This change of national status also resulted in the formation of a new board of directors composed of 14 campus and community professionals. Hillel also organized many new campus programs. Some of these events took a special interest in the arts. During the 1991 fall semester, Hillel began a new theater group called “Hillel Players”. The group’s first performance was Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat by Tim Rice. This show was followed later in the academic year by Somewhere: A Musical Exploration of Tradition and Culture, which was a piece inspired by West Side Story. The group also went on to perform Rags by Joseph Stein, Broadway Bound by Neil Simon and an original production Guarding the Garden, which explored the creation story in Genesis through a modern lens of environmentalism and feminism during the mid-1990s. Hillel members also sponsored their own a cappella group at around the same time. Weekly Shabbat services in Muller Chapel expanded to consist of two separate services, one room offering a Reform-style service and another offering a Conservative-style service. Shabbat dinner was, however, always held together in Terrace Dining Hall at 7:15 PM. High Holiday services were held in Muller Chapel and at larger venues on campus such as Ford Hall. Social events for Hillel members included an annual semi-formal dance and yearly Hanukkah parties which were sometimes co-sponsored by Cornell Hillel. Hillel at Ithaca College also hosted regional conferences that brought together Hillel chapters from across the Mid-Atlantic. The first of these conferences was held in 1989 and included 74 students. Of these students, 39 had come from outside Ithaca College including from campuses in Philadelphia and New Jersey. Other educational events included a series of programs in 1992 to mark the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
Holocaust remembrance also continued to be an important organizational goal for Hillel and an opportunity to meaningfully connect with other campus groups. For example, the 1993 Holocaust Remembrance Day vigil was cosponsored with the Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Alliance (BiGALA). These programs helped to combat occasional instances of antisemitism, homophobia, racism and even Holocaust denial in Ithaca. One example of Holocaust denial occurred on November 18, 1991, when an organization unaffiliated with either Cornell University or Ithaca College ran a full-page advertisement in The Cornell Daily Sun entitled “The Holocaust Controversy: The Case For Open Debate”. This advertisement ignited a heated debate in Ithaca about free speech. Cornell Hillel and Ithaca College Hillel also sponsored several trips to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. In 1994, 97 students from both campuses traveled to the memorial and museum. That same year on April 06, 1994, Hillel at Ithaca College hosted a talk by Jake Geldwert, a survivor of Blechammer, the second-largest subcamp of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Langenstein-Zweiberge in Klingenstein Lounge.
Hillel’s expanded cultural, educational and social activities on campus were made possible in part by the addition of program directors to the organization. During the ‘94 - ‘95 academic year Adam Schaffer worked with Hillel as part of the Jewish Campus Service Corps, which was a national program directed at increasing the engagement of unaffiliated Jews in Jewish life on campus. Adam was followed by Naomi Wilensky, who worked as a part-time Program Director from August 1996 through June 1999. In 1994 it was estimated that 25 percent of incoming first-year students were Jewish while 20 percent of the overall student population at Ithaca College was Jewish. The significant size of the Jewish community at Ithaca College promoted ongoing discussions about how the religious needs of Jewish students could be better met. While a conclusion to the decades-old debate surrounding class attendance on the High Holidays was not reached, Jewish students who wished to observe kosher dietary laws on campus were given a significant resource with the opening of Kosher Kitchen in fall 1994. Kosher Kitchen was and continues to be located in Terrace Dining Hall. The addition of a kosher kitchen on campus was made possible through the support of Ithaca College’s Dining Services. It was also a development advocated for by Hillel for several years. Shlomit Lichtman-Metz served as the first Mashgiach of Kosher Kitchen. 85 students were regularly eating at Kosher Kitchen during its first year.
By the mid-1990s, Hillel was sponsoring even larger programs on campus. This included organizing a yearlong series of events centering on Jewish feminism and women in Jewish life during the ‘95 - ‘96 academic year. Over the same period, Hillel increased its partnership with the Friends of Israel and United Jewish Appeal student organizations on campus. By 1996 “Jewish Awareness Week” had developed into “Jewish Awareness Month” held in April. Programs during the month included an Israel Expo fair, which converted the balcony area of Terrace Dining Hall into a covered shuk in celebration of Israeli Independence Day. In addition to sampling Israeli coffee and foods, attendees learned about ways they could travel to Israel through various programs. Similarly large events in honor of Israeli Independence Day were held annually until the mid-2000s. According to Faber, “Ithaca College was the site for the entire Ithaca Jewish community’s Independence Day celebrations for years.” Community partners at these festivities over the years included Congregation Tikkun v’Or, Cornell Hillel, the Ithaca Area United Jewish Community, and Temple Beth-El. On September 19, 1997, President Peggy Ryan Williams attended Shabbat services with Hillel members. This was the first time a president of Ithaca College was recorded attending Shabbat services on campus. In honor of the occasion Reform, Conservative and traditional services were all held simultaneously that week in Muller Chapel. Later that year, Hillel co-sponsored a large concert in Emerson Suites by Safam, “America’s number one Jewish musical group” along with Temple Beth-El. The Hillel Players also organized a performance of Man of La Mancha by Dan Wasserman, which was held three times. Another artistic event sponsored by Hillel was a photography exhibit featuring the work of Ross Bochnek ‘97 whose photos featured the remains of Nazi concentration camps juxtaposed with images of life in modern Israel. Bochnek, whose great uncle lost his whole family in the Holocaust, was the first student ever to display his work in Muller Chapel.
In 1998 Hillel’s President and international director, Richard Joel visited Ithaca College to meet with Hillel student members and local Hillel leadership. 1998 also marked the start of a period of time in which the Jewish Community Outreach Project (JCOP) was active on campus. Sarah Burgin ‘99 and Pam Shulman ‘00 served as the first JCOP Peer Fellows on campus. The JCOP planned home-style monthly Shabbat dinners as well as social activities including wine-tours, go-karting and bowling. By connecting Jewish students socially and exposing students to Judaism as a culture, the JCOP sought to create a Jewish space on campus for students who were not being seen at other programs sponsored by Hillel. At the time it was estimated there were 800 Jewish students at Ithaca College. On April 30, 1998, Hillel sponsored a massive party in honor of Israel’s 50th Birthday. This event was co-sponsored by many departments and outside organizations, including the Ithaca College President’s Office, the Dean of the School of Humanities & Sciences, and the Consulate of Israel. Festivities included the raffling of airline tickets to Israel. The final development for Hillel during the 1990s occurred in the summer of 1999 when Hillel hired a new Program Director, Aron Gutman. Gutman would work with Hillel until 2004. Hillel closed out the 20th century with dynamism, energy and vibrancy.
Hillel Moves into the 21st Century: An Overview of Events from 2000 to 2013
The years 2000 and 2001 brought significant global events that shook the world, Ithaca College and Hillel. In September 2000 the Second Intifada broke out in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. This period of violence would last until 2005 and profoundly shape how the Middle East, and particularly the territories of Israel and Palestine, were viewed by many contemporary college students. Just one year before the outbreak of the Intifada a new national program had been created called Birthright Israel. This initiative sought to provide Jewish college students with an economically accessible way to travel to Israel for a ten-day immersive experience. Through its funders Birthright Israel has provided all program participants with an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel for over 20 years. Violence in Israel has, as of 2020, never caused Birthright Israel to cancel programs. The violence of the Intifada also did not seem to dissuade many Ithaca College students from applying to the trip in its first year. In total over 70 students applied for a spot on Hillel’s first Birthright Israel trip, which ran from December 28, 2000, through January 09, 2001. Only 20 spots were available, so most students found themselves placed on a waiting list. The conflict in Israel would, however, help to inspire many Hillel campus programs during the early 2000s. Some of these programs included concerts, film screenings and guest speakers. For example, in February 2002 Gutman took a leading role in the organization of Hillel’s first-ever Israeli film-series. The theme for the first year was “Focus On Israeli Culture”. Student attendees were encouraged while watching the films presented to think about life for Arabs and Jews beyond the headlines shown in media outlets. Films during the first year included Kazablan, The Solitary Star and Kippur. Hillel continued to help organize an Israeli film series for many years. On March 02, 2002, Hillel sponsored a concert by the Shacharut Trio in Muller Chapel, which presented and combined both traditional Arab and Mizrahi Jewish music. The trio was composed of a Bedouin, Heleil Al Awiwi, an Israeli, Yair Dalal, and an American, Jim Santi Owen.
September 11, 2001, was also a day that profoundly shaped the lives of Ithaca College faculty, staff and students. The attacks left over 2,900 people killed, including alumni from Ithaca College. On September 13 over 1,500 members of the Ithaca College community attended a vigil held in memory of those killed two days earlier. Invocations were given by Michael Faber as well as by Mary Humenay and the Reverend Scott Kubinski from the Catholic Community and Allison Stokes Chaplain of the Protestant Community. Later a memorial honoring the victims of the 9/11 attacks was created near Muller Chapel. Hillel also created space for students to come together and find community. Many of these efforts were continuations of earlier incentives. For example, Shabbat services continued to be held every week. A typical Friday night at Hillel began with Torah study at 5:00 PM in Muller Chapel followed by a Shabbat service at 6:00 PM and then Shabbat dinner in Terrace Dining Hall at 7:00 PM. Hillel also organized social programs, including an annual Labor Day gorge hike held at Buttermilk Falls State Park and apple picking. Earlier in spring 2001, Hillel also organized its first “Festival for Jewish Life in the Arts” (JAM). JAM was scheduled to take place during late March through early April in order to include holidays such as Passover, Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut. To help inspire new creative events Hillel offered $500 grants to students who developed projects that expressed Jewish culture through an artistic lens. Funding existed for two grants to be awarded.
Some notable speakers who visited Ithaca College through Hillel during the early 2000s included Yossi Klein Halevi, an Israeli author and journalist, who spoke during November 2002 in Emerson Suites. His talk centered on his book, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land. Halevi wound return to Ithaca College in 2009 to speak about his book Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist: An American Story. Another speaker in 2002 was Avraham Infeld, a national leader within the Hillel movement, who visited campus as part of JAM in April. Hillel also continued to sponsor tzedek opportunities. In 2003, April became the “Month of Tikkun” with special programs that included creating stuffed teddy bears for children in need and a feminist seder. In November 2003 Hillel hosted its first annual benefit for cancer research. Later this program would become known as the Shoshana Rudnick Inch-A-Thon, named after its founder Shoshana Rudnick ‘05. This event continues into the 2020s and brings together students, Hillel staff and local hair stylists. Thousands of dollars have been raised for organizations such as Sharsheret and thousands of inches of hair have been donated to organizations such as Hair We Share and Locks of Love. This hair is into wigs for cancer patients. In April 2004 Jake Geldwert again spoke at Ithaca College about his experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust. Other Holocaust remembrance events during the 2000s included an exhibition in Handwerker Gallery describing the Nazi persecution of gays in 2006. This exhibition was co-sponsored by the Ithaca College Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services. In 2008 Hillel’s Holocaust Memorial Day observances included a screening of Life is Beautiful directed by Roberto Benigni and a walk-through interactive museum based on the novel Both Sides of the Wall by Vladka Meed.
In 2004 Hillel co-sponsored a yearlong programming series called Yiddishkayt: A Yearlong Celebration of Language and Culture” in collaboration with the Jewish Studies Department and School of Music. Events included a September concert by klezmer musician and Yiddish songster Michael Alpert, who performed with the Ithaca College klezmer ensemble, "Shmutz." In March a concert was given by Joel Rubin, a renowned klezmer clarinetist, the lthaca College Klezmorim and the Cornell University Klezmer Ensemble. A klezmer dance class was also taught by Roey Mendel. The Ithaca College Theatre Department also sponsored a performance of Yentl in April 2004. Human Rights were a special focus of Hillel programs in 2008. One event hosted was the Middle East Peace Fest inside Campus Center’s Clarke Lounge. The goal of the event was to get students on campus talking about ongoing concerns in Israel over food. Molly Wernick, a Programming Intern for Hillel, and Rachel Berger, Religious Chair of Hillel helped to organize the event. Donations were also collected for the Sulha Peace Project, an organization that helps victims of terrorist attacks, their families and friends. Middle East Peace Fest was followed by a lecture from Michal Ya’Akovson, an Israeli who spoke about her experience as a victim of a terrorist attack on a bus. Ya’Akovson also addressed the need for forgiveness and understanding to achieve peace in the Middle East. In December 2008 Hillel helped sponsor Human Rights Day with Amnesty International, the Campus Anti-War Network and the National Students Anti-Genocide Coalition.
As Hillel moved into the 2010s a new annual tradition began, the Welcome Back BBQ in August. This program was open to the whole campus and often drew hundreds of students. Concerts were also often presented at the Welcome Back BBQ. In August 2013, The Gunpoets performed and drew an especially large crowd. The Welcome Back BBQ is a Hillel tradition that continues to be held into the 2020s. Another annual tradition, which began around 2013, was Hillel’s Freshman Fest, later renamed Fresh Fest. This program offered incoming Jewish first-year students the chance to move to campus a few days early and settle in. The program also helped new students find their Jewish community on campus. It continues to be offered into the 2020s. Hillel also organized at least one large-scale party every academic year. Some years this party was timed to coincide with Hanukkah, but other years the party had different themes including a “Matzah Ball”. In 2012, a B’nai Mitzvah celebration was organized by Hillel for any student who did not have an opportunity to experience a formal ceremony growing up. Katarina Andersson was one Hillel member who had her bat mitzvah at this event. Hillel also continued to organize smaller events. Faber led a “Meditation Minyan” on some Saturday mornings and helped to organize programs touching on themes such as “Jews and Baseball”. After 31 years at Ithaca College, however, Faber elected to retire at the end of the ‘12 - ‘13 academic year.
Michael Faber Retires: Hillel moves into the 2020s
After the retirement of Michael Faber, Hillel at Ithaca College hired a new Executive Director, Igor Khoklov. Khoklov would serve as Executive Director from July 2013 to July 2015. During his time on campus, Hillel began its Peer Network Engagement Internship (PNEI) for students. This national Hillel program sought to increase the reach of Hillel’s activities on campus by engaging students who would not typically be involved with organized Jewish life on campus. Khoklov was also joined by Kayla Reisman, who served as Director of Jewish Student Life from July 2014 to July 2016. In December 2014, Hillel at Ithaca College was recognized by Hillel International for its engagement work on campus. Social events organized by Hillel members included a disco party, bowling, and ice skating outings, “Jews on Ice”. Hillel also organized tzedek opportunities, including fundraisers for Save A Child’s Heart and Sharsheret. In 2014, Hillel began to host an annual Rosh Hashanah banquet in Emerson Suites, a tradition that continues into the 2020s. In 2015, a popular concert was given by The Maccabeats on campus during Hanukkah. Hillel also continued to host programs for Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 2016, Fred Heyman spoke on campus about his experiences in Berlin during the Shoah. After Igor’s departure from campus Abbe Lyons served as Interim Director of Hillel. In 2017, Lauren Goldberg was hired as Hillel’s new Executive Director and Lyons was recognized as the college’s Jewish Chaplain. Lauren arrived in Ithaca from Athens, Ohio, where she worked with Hillel at Ohio University. Under the direction of Goldberg, Hillel has once again expanded its activities on campus significantly. Over 600 Jewish students participated in Hillel’s activities on campus during the ‘18 - ‘19 academic year. In July 2018 Austin Reid was hired as a third Hillel staff member as part of the Springboard Fellowship, a two-year program for emerging Jewish communal professionals. Moving into the 2020s Hillel is ready to engage the next generation of Jewish students.