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Conceptual Framework for Hillel's Future Strategic Direction

Leading in the Jewish World

Executive Summary

Background and Introduction​​

  1. The goal of this report is to offer a conceptual framework for Hillel’s strategic thinking in the coming years seeking to answer the question: “What is Hillel’s potential leadership role in the Jewish World of the 21st century?” Translating this report into a strategic plan and concrete programs would require internal deliberations and potentially further research.

  2. This report is primarily a product of over 50 conversations the Reut Institute conducted with Hillel senior management, professionals, and lay-leaders over the past months, as well as with people not affiliated with it.

Hillel Faces a Need for Strategic Re-visioning​​

  1. In the rapidly changing reality of the 21st century, every organization faces the challenge of adaptation. Institutions that fail to adapt run the risk of being rendered irrelevant, thus becoming unattractive to the younger cohorts or to philanthropic investments. Meanwhile, organizations that successfully adapt are likely to grow their base of support and have an abundance of resources.

  2. Against this backdrop, Hillel's need for strategic re-visioning is twofold:

    • The Jewish world is changing with the new organizing idea being Jewish Peoplehood. This powerful trend presents Hillel with both an opportunity and a challenge. While it is uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in the upcoming decades, a failure to do so may result in Hillel being gradually pushed out by other organizations;

    • There is a strong internal thirst and ripeness within Hillel for change. Failure to address this readiness may lead to a loss of talent, resources and constituencies.

  3. Thus, Hillel currently has a window of opportunity to make the adaptive changes necessary to play a leading role in the evolving global Jewish community. This will require changing certain aspects of the organization, as well as people’s mindset, values, or models of behavior.

Hillel’s Playing Field: Not Merely University Campuses; Also the Jewish world

  1. The historical mindset of Hillel has been that its 'playing field', so to speak, is primarily college campuses. Its vision, mission, strategy, structure and many of its programs are shaped by this mindset.

  2. Whereas this mindset remains fundamentally relevant, its manifestation and application are increasingly affected not only by trends taking place on campuses, but also by powerful trends that are transforming the Jewish world in general. This is not only changing the context of Hillel's work, but also creating new opportunities and challenges.

  3. Powerful drivers of these changes are young people that look for not only a spiritual, intellectual and emotional home-away-from-home, but also for an effective and attractive platform for their activism and leadership.

  4. Reut's research has identified that the organizing logic of the Jewish world has been re-anchored around the idea of Peoplehood and is gravitating in the direction of partnerships around issues and away from relationships among institutions. In other words, people will increasingly join together to directly collaborate on issues and projects, thereby bypassing established formal relationships.

  5. In this context, six major issues are likely to capture the bulk of attention, energy and resources in the Jewish world in the coming decades: community building, Tikkun Olam, Israel, Hebrew, Jewish heritage and tradition, and fighting anti-Semitism and the de-legitimization of Israel (hereinafter, 'the six issues').

  6. There is no agreed definition to the concept of Peoplehood, yet its essence may be expressed in the following terms: The idea of Peoplehood emphasizes the sense of the Jewish people as a 'large family' that shares history, stories, memories, fate or destiny, and the desire to promote its well-being. It cherishes and seeks to preserve the great geographic, ethnic, ritual or cultural diversity of our people through collaborations, acquaintances, relationships while playing down differences in faithor nationality. Its constituency includes all those who want to be or feel a part of the Jewish people and are committed to living in Jewish households and raising Jewish children.

  7. Examples of Peoplehood projects include: a traveling exhibition of photographs of Sukkoth from all over the Jewish world and discussion about the rituals of this holiday in different times and places; a trip to Morocco or Hungary to explore Jewish history there; students of Hillel from the USA, Israel and Latin America collaborating to protest against the Durban Conference; Initiatives aimed at taking care of elderly Jewish people in the FSU, rebuilding New Orleans, or working with orphan children in India.

  8. Based on this analysis, Hillel stands out as uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in a Jewish world that is organized around the idea of Peoplehood, and in each of the emerging six issues, and by implication, throughout the entire Jewish world.

Hillel's Opportunity and Unique Assets

  1. Hillel can become a global network of interconnected, yet independent, institutions that not only provide a spiritual, emotional and intellectual home-away-from-home to a growing cohort of Jewish students and young adults, but also allows their activism and leadership to be realized within the Jewish community and at the frontiers of their societies and humanity, i.e. locally, regionally, nationally and globally.

  2. Hillel has unique assets it can leverage in order to fulfill its potential:

  • The most extensive presence among colleges in North America and communities of young Jews around the world;

  • A unique cohort of field leadership of a high caliber, representing most factions and voices in the Jewish world;

  • A global spread with over 500 units, primarily in North America, but also in Latin America, FSU, Israel, Australia and potentially Western Europe;

  • The collection of Hillel centers can be relatively easily organized into a global network where each Hillel has direct, extensive and intensive relationships with other Hillels around the world;

  • Community building is in Hillel’s DNA, which is a central theme for the entire Jewish world, including in Israel;

  • A track record and expertise in each of the six emerging issues;

  • It has already embraced the idea of 'peoplehood' and globalization even if these are not fully embedded yet into its culture;

  • Authentic presence in Israel (which most Peoplehood organizations do not);

  • Strategic partnership with Taglit-Birthright, the fastest growing platform in the Jewish world, whose potential is yet to be fully realized.

Hillel's Challenges in Light of the Changing Reality

  1. In light of the above assets, this project highlights three overarching challenges and dilemmas Hillel faces:

    • Hillel's mindset, structure and operations do not reflect Jewish Peoplehood, despite the fact that peoplehood is becoming the organizing principle of the Jewish world and is within Hillel's strategic plan and lingo;

    • Hillel is largely a North American organization with branches overseas. Becoming a leading global organization in the entire Jewish world requires its internationalization and internal transformation on all levels: board, management, and individual Hillels; 

    • Hillel is structured as a union of Hillels and not as a network of communities. It should rethink the balance among the flexibility, independence and uniqueness of individual Hillels, on the one hand, and the shared vision, mission, strategy, unique values and projects of the entire network, on the other hand.​​​​

  2. Structural reforms to support strategy – Naturally, new strategic directions require changes in the structure of the institution: definition of roles, incentives, patterns of conduct, etc. For example: 

    • Hillel's internationalization may require clearer boundaries between the international board and management, which is the governing body of the entire organization (The Schusterman International Center), and the North American board and its management team, which focuses exclusively on North America. The national background of the teams should therefore reflect their respective roles;  

    • Embedding the idea of Jewish Peoplehood requires extensive research and development of educational programs, budgeting, documentation of best practices and new initiatives;

    • Turning Hillel into a network requires adapting Hillel’s ‘franchise’ model including revisiting the common denominator among individual Hillel centers and updating the standards to the new reality, as well as establishing direct relationships between the central body and the local Hillel center, where appropriate;

    • Local Hillel centers would have to adapt as well, developing their local application of the concept of Jewish Peoplehood, and becoming a part of the global Hillel network.

  3. The role of the international headquarters and regional headquarters (North America, Latin America, FSU, Israel, etc.) could be to serve as an engine for mobilizing adaptive work through: (1) Branding and communicating the vision, and developing strategies for its implementation; (2) Generating a sense of urgency; (3) Conducting  focused research where there is clear advantage of scale; (4) Developing the Hillel network and encouraging collaborations around the six major issues, such as the work of the Israel Coalition on Campus on the issue of Israel advocacy; (5) Fundraising according to the international and regional priorities respectively, and establishing a code-of-conduct for the individual Hillels; (6) Identifying, documenting and disseminating local success stories; (7) Creating shared and transparent sources of information; (8) Advocating on behalf of the organization; (9) Building strategic relationships with other Jewish 'platforms' such as of JCCs, Partnership 2000 or Taglit.

  4. Numerous initiatives among Hillel centers embody the ideas of global Jewish Peoplehood and could serve as best practices. Some examples are:

  • Leadership and Professional International Development Initiative (LAPID) that connects Tikkun Olam, young leadership, and Jewish Peoplehood;

  • The Kiev–Herzliya-NYC (Baruch College) partnership;

  • 'Russian Hillel' established in Chicago that reaches out to and leverages non-North American Jewish students on campus;

  • Latin American representatives integrated into the board of directors.   

Hillel Israel and Taglit-Birthright / Birthright

  1. Hillel Israel has a unique leadership role to play within the Hillel network, its work on Israeli campuses, such as serving as a Jewish home for overseas students on campus; partnering with Hillels around the world in establishing a Jewishly-committed Israeli presence; creating a unique model of Israeli-Jewish spiritual leadership on campus; offering innovation around the six issues; and bringing the unique Israeli perspective and knowledge.

  2. Taglit-Birthright: A strategic opportunity for Hillel. Hillel is uniquely positioned to benefit from Taglit-Birthright and the documented effects on its participants in terms of all aspects of Jewish identity. Hillel should strive that 50% of freshmen Jewish undergraduate students on every campus that meet the Birthright criteria travel to Israel on a Taglit-Birthright trip, and 70% travel by their sophomore year.


Conceptual Framework for Hillel's Future Strategic Direction


Jewish Peoplehood

The New Contract: Jewish Peoplehood

The goal of this report is to offer a conceptual framework for Hillel’s strategic thinking in the coming years, seeking to answer the question: “What is Hillel’s potential leadership role in the Jewish World of the 21st century?”

קראו את הגרסה בעברית

Israeli-Diaspora Relations, Jewish Peoplehood, Nation-State, Zionism, Tikkun Olam

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