Hillel Foundations Report Increased Student Interest in Religion
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Hillel Foundations Report Increased Student Interest in Religion

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One of the factors that has stimulated increased Jewish student interest in religious worship on the campuses of American colleges and universities is that “the academic climate today favors religious identification on the part of students,” the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations reported today.

The report said that a study of attendance at services on campuses during the past High Holy Days revealed a larger attendance than ever before. It cited an attendance at the Pennsylvania State University Hillel Foundation of 1,500 Jewish students who filled the auditorium synagogue and overflowed to the outside halls and sidewalks.

“At Ohio State University, concurrent services were conducted, one liberal and the other traditional, not only to meet the specific needs of students of different denominational backgrounds but also to provide additional seating space for the large number of students Joining in worship,” the report added. “Three concurrent services were conducted at Harvard-Radcliffe in the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform traditions, with more than 1,400 students in attendance.”

Conceding that attendance at such services was “no indication of the real intensity of Jewish identification,” the report contended that increased student attendance was nevertheless significant “because it runs counter to our experience on the campus a decade ago, certainly 20 years ago. Then large numbers of Jewish students refused to identify themselves in any way with Jewish life and religion.” The report added that the Hillel programs demonstrated that “there is indeed a carry-over from attendance at High Holy Day services into the on-going cultural and religious program of the entire year” offered by the Foundations.


The report added that the spirit of the university “is highlighted further by the growing number of schools at which Chairs or courses in Jewish studies are found. Forty Hillel directors teach university credit courses in Hebrew language, Jewish history, Jewish philosophy, Bible studies, and on a growing number of universities it is now possible to major in Judaic studies.”

The report said that many universities include information on Hillel’s religious and cultural programs in their regular bulletins and “take special pains to inform new students of the existence of the Hillel Foundations.”

In addition, university administrations, without exception, make extraordinary efforts to accommodate their school calendars and policies to the Jewish religious needs of college students,” the report stressed. “When registration is scheduled unavoidably or accidentally in conflict with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, provisions are made for Jewish students to register before or after the High Holy Days. Jewish students are excused from class attendance on these days as well,” the report stated.


Touching on the problems of growth, the report said that the annual Hillel budget of $2,005,477 in 1962 went over $2,000,000 for the first time. The money was spent on 81 full-time professional staff members; the maintenance of 52 Hillel Foundation buildings whose value at the time of construction or purchase was more than $6,000,000; program and maintenance funds for 243 Hillel Foundations and counselor ships; salaries for specialists in Hebrew, music and dance; student work scholarships, and the operations of the national office.

The report said that in the past four years, the Hillel budget had grown at the rate of $112,000 a year, and that 45 percent of the increase had come from parental contributions, student registration fee increases and other local sources.

Noting that the larger universities were reaching the saturation point, the study said that many more Jewish students were entering smaller liberal arts colletes all over the United States. The report-cited comparisons of Jewish enrollment in 1961 and 1962 and said that the larger schools showed “modest increases” in Jewish enrollment in 1962 over 1961 but that “the smaller schools show significant percentage increases.”

Preliminary findings of a survey to determine Hillel needs beyond the 200 schools already on the Hillel waiting list showed dozens of colleges and small universities with Jewish enrollments of 40 to 50 students. The report added that Hillel officials were not aware before the survey “of the existence of this Jewish student population.”

The report said that school administrators have been informing Hillel officials that Jewish students were not waiting for formal affiliation with Hillel Foundations “but are unilaterally designating themselves as ‘Hillel’ groups.” Some even have faculty advisors and rabbinical counselors and “all wait for the time when our budgetary situation will permit their formal designation of official Hillel units.”

The Hillel Foundations currently serve–in addition to the United States and Canada–in Australia, Britain, Holland, Israel, Switzerland and South Africa.

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