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The Daily Tar Heel

Op-ed: I loved Hillel. I thought it loved me back


Editor's Note: This op-ed is part of a series of contributions related to the Israel-Gaza war. Letters and op-eds are sent in by community members and do not represent the beliefs of The Daily Tar Heel. The other op-eds related to this conflict can be found here

Submit your own op-ed or letter to the editor to More information about submissions can be found here.

As a Jewish UNC graduate, I often get updates from NC Hillel, which I took part in as a student. In light of the horrific Israeli attacks on Gaza, Hillel is very concerned about antisemitism on campus, which to them means any vocal solidarity with Palestine. Hillel's narrative is that solidarity with Palestine is an attack on Jewish students. As a proudly anti-Zionist Jewish alumna, I want to fight that narrative.

I dedicated a mountain of time, effort and care to UNC Hillel. I led Shabbat services almost every week of my student career. I served on Hillel's student board. I co-wrote the Haggadah for Hillel's queer Passover Seder. I loved Hillel. I thought it loved me back. But that love only went as far as I could pass as a Zionist.

During my first year at UNC, excited to take part in Jewish life, I joined Hillel's student board. We went to a dinner where I recall the president of Hillel International railed against Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. This event wasn't supposed to be about Israel; it was supposed to be about Hillel. The purpose of Hillel, apparently, was to silence pro-Palestine sentiment, especially from other Jews.

In 2017, Hillel at Ohio State broke ties with a fellow Jewish group for working with a student organization that supports the boycott and divestment of Israel. In 2019, Hillels of Georgia partnered with a Christian law firm to file a federal complaint after Georgia Tech's Hillel director was barred from a pro-Palestine event. They painted the incident as antisemitic, when in fact it was an attempt to protect the event from disruption.

You can't have it both ways, Hillel. Either you're a home for all Jewish students, including those of us who support Palestine, or you're a Zionist organization. It's heartbreaking to remember the hours I spent in the Hillel house, the work I put in preparing Seders and leading services, knowing all that work and love was feeding a reactionary, genocidal ideology. You said you were my Jewish home, and I wanted that to be true. Even knowing you'd drop me if I voiced support for Palestine, I gave my time to you anyway. I didn't see another option. There was no formal Jewish community at UNC outside Hillel. I felt forced into an impossible choice, giving up spiritual community or supporting genocidal propaganda. I chose wrong.

Because it's a lie. Even as I led services and listened to my peers pray for Israel, I also made Jewish friends who supported Palestine. I met Palestinian students who showed me a degree of patience they were by no means obligated to. The community I didn't think I could have was right there.

Jewish students: Hillel doesn't love you. It wants to use you, and you deserve better. You can build your own community, with Jews and non-Jews alike. Loving, anti-Zionist Jewish community is possible. Don't let propagandists tell you otherwise.

Solidarity with Palestine.

— Jayna Fishman, UNC class of 2017

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