(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
BERLIN – The International Jewish campus organization Hillel has expanded its global footprint into Germany, Austria and Switzerland to strengthen Jewish identity, Jewish life and build identification with Israel.
The move “is a natural partnership,” Hillel’s CEO Eric Fingerhut on Thursday told The Jerusalem Post. “The need to strengthen Jewish identity is apparent” because of a new generation with different issues.
Fingerhut, who was in Berlin to launch the central European network, said Germany has a sizable number of Jewish college students who were born in the former Soviet Union or whose parents are immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe. Noting that Hillel just celebrated 20 years in Moscow, Fingerhut said it’s, therefore, natural for the organization to operate in Germany.
Fingerhut, who served as a US congressman from Ohio from 1993 to 1994, has broad experience in the field of higher education in that state’s public education system.
“Everything in my life has led to this moment – my public service, my work on campuses and research centers across Ohio, and my lifelong devotion to Israel and the Jewish people. And so I couldn’t be more thrilled,” Fingerhut said when he joined Hillel in 2013.
Hillel’s college activities will cover Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Münster, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart and Potsdam.
The city of Basel in Switzerland and Vienna in Austria will be part of the new Hillel program.
The program in central Europe formed a partnership with the Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Scholarship Fund (ELES) and will bring Jewish and pro-Israel programming to more than 1,000 students – a 150 percent increase over the 400 students presently served by ELES alone.
The German government also supports the programming.
The Hillel expansion comes at a time of rising European anti-Semitism. In early October, an anniversary poster celebrating 20 years of Jewish studies at the University of Potsdam was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. Next to the anniversary statement “Jewish studies for the 21 Century” someone wrote “Jews??? I thought we exterminated them.”
Asked about the anti-Semitism and the safety factor for Jewish students, Fingerhut said that “is part of the reason to be in Germany” to create “a strong Jewish identity, first and foremost.”
Some of the student leaders reached out to Hillel to counter manifestations of anti-Semitism and develop Jewish identity, he said.