The Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 13b recounts one of many disagreements between the rival schools of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. After three years of disagreement a divine voice emerges and proclaims “Both these and those are the words of the living G-d.” This Jewish text, like many of our teachings, was carried 2,000 years through the generations to our Jewish communities in the greater San Gabriel and Pomona valleys. These words “Elu v’Elu,” “both these and those,” continue to teach and inspire us today about living with contradicting realities.
The value of “Elu v’Elu,” of living in a state of cognitive dissonance where two contradicting beliefs can simultaneously exist, is very Jewish. This text, and many others in our tradition, encourage pluralism and instills in us the ability to live with contradictions. Many Jews today can surely relate to balancing Jewish beliefs and customs with the realities of the modern world. Embracing the teaching of “Elu v’Elu” is often what helps our communities to sustain Judaism and our traditions.
There are few places where “Elu v’Elu” is more relevant than what is happening now at The Claremont Colleges. Over the past few years there have been an increasing number of anti-Semitic or anti-Israel incidents on campus. In recent months two high-profile occurrences have been publicized by Jewish and national media, and they have shocked and worried many in our communities. At Pitzer College the faculty voted to suspend the study abroad program at the University of Haifa in Israel. To clarify, this vote was not binding and the final decision is still pending review through the shared governance process. President Melvin Oliver of Pitzer College strongly condemned the faculty resolution and has been supportive and responsive to concerns from the Jewish community. At Pomona College, a mural on the free speech wall memorializing the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting with the words “Anti-semitism exists, acknowledge it” was vandalized twice: First by erasing the word “Anti-semitism” in an apparent attempt to erase anti-Semitism from public discourse, and later an anti-Israel message was added. President Gabrielle Starr of Pomona College has also been supportive, including offering inspiring and comforting words at our Solidarity Shabbat after the Pittsburgh shooting, and working with a number of Jewish students on initiatives to improve campus climate. The Jewish Chaplain and Hillel continue to work with the administration across The Claremont Colleges to address these and other concerns on campus.
Despite the many challenges, and in light of “Elu v’Elu,” The Claremont Colleges is still an amazing place to be a Jewish student. On average, over 50 students attend Shabbat services and dinner each week, creating meaningful community and chances to connect with one another. Last semester, over 200 students from the numerous Jewish groups across campus came together in solidarity after Pittsburgh, and just the week before, over 100 students gathered for an interfaith dinner celebration hosted by Pitzer College. Earlier in the fall semester, over 100 students attended a student-organized panel discussion on Israel featuring three Claremont professors. Additionally, Hillel hosts all the Jewish holidays with religious, cultural, and/or social events. Later this semester, for example, we will celebrate Passover with seders, kosher-for-Passover meals all week, and an-end-of-Passover chametz celebration. These are just a few of the highlights, and there are so many more opportunities for students to get involved.
While students are forced to live with the concept of “Elu v’Elu” due to anti-Israel activity and/or anti-Semitism on campus, Hillel encourages students to embrace “Elu v’Elu” in other realms as an opportunity for growth. Students are nurtured to succeed in their academic studies while also embracing their Jewish identities. They can explore their Jewish culture while also being a part of the larger university community. They can practice religious observances while balancing the demands of being a student and living in a diverse community. They can be part of social justice causes while maintaining their relationship with Israel. During these more turbulent times, our students are learning a lesson that will serve them well in their future: that they can be proudly Jewish despite the adversity they may experience, especially on campus. Judaism challenges our students to exist in multiple realms simultaneously, to exist in “Elu v’Elu” realities. Hillel supports students through the challenges, and they are succeeding brilliantly.
When engaging students about Israel, Hillel also applies the concept of “Elu v’Elu,” along with the other teachings of our tradition that encourage constructive debate and discourse. We support conversations that are nuanced, and that acknowledge multiple realities at once. Hillel will continue to work towards creating a more positive and conducive campus climate for all students by encouraging the campus community to embrace this tradition of “Elu v’Elu” a bit more. Through these efforts and the support of the college administration, we hope to create a climate where our students do not have to exist with so much dissonance.
Despite being a relatively small organization on campus, Hillel makes a huge impact. The Jewish chaplain, employed by The Claremont Colleges Services, also serves as the Hillel director, and plans and executes Hillel events along with an active student board. The chaplain also provides critical support to the diverse Jewish community on campus. A small group of faculty, staff, and community members are also instrumental in providing support for Hillel. We certainly have room to grow to keep up with and increase our engagement on campus and support our students. If you are interested in learning more about supporting Hillel, please visit our website at www.claremonthillel.org or contact Rabbi Danny at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RABBI DANNY SHAPIRO IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.