Harvard Is A `Home' For Jewish Students

Students Say Past Prejudice Is No Longer a Barrier

In the first half of the 20th century, Harvard maintained admissions quotas to keep the number of Jewish students low.

Today, one in four students at the College is Jewish. And several top University administrators are of Jewish descent--including Provost Jerry R. Green, who last week gave a talk on how lessons from the Judaic tradition of moral law could benefit the Harvard administration.

Despite the decades of institutional discrimination and more recent campus racial and religious tensions, Rabbi Sally Finestone says Jewish students now "feel at home at Harvard."

"I don't think Jews feel like guests at Harvard anymore," says Finestone, who is acting chair of Harvard-Radcliffe Hillel. "I think they feel as much like what the typical Harvard student is."

Students interviewed last week agree with Finestone that Harvard today is a comfortable place to be Jewish.


"We live in a time when expressing oneself ethnically is much more acceptable," said Shai A. Held '94, chair of Hillel's steering committee. "You don't haveto be a white, Protestant man anymore."

Jewish life at Harvard, as on many collegecampuses, centers around the Hillel house.

"For me, a big part of being Jewish on campusis Hillel," says Pamela B. Kirschner '94, co-chairof Hillel's social action committee. "It's reallylike a home."

Some first-year students active in Hillel sayit serves as an initial welcome to the College andas a unifying force for the Jewish community.

"[Hillel members] were very helpful inadjusting," says Orit Sarfaton '96. "If thereweren't a Hillel it would be very difficult tocome together."

Students at Hillel come from a broad range ofreligious backgrounds. Despite this diversity ofcommunities, students say, Hillel seessurprisingly little conflict between Orthodox,Reform and Conservative Jews.

In fact, Finestone says, Hillel activelyencourages students to "find one's own identitywithin the spectrum of Jewish life and toexperiment with different ways to be Jewish atHarvard."

Though Hillel was once primarily a religioushaven for Jews observing kosher laws and attendingservices, the organization has increasingly becomea social and cultural center for the Jewishcommunity.

"It's definitely becoming much more social,"says Jenna L. Andelman '95, Hillel's annual eventscoordinator. "Four years ago, I heard it wasbasically a bunch of Orthodox people hanging out."

Regular Hillel diners--dinner is served sixdays a week and open to all students on the mealplan--do not fit any neat stereotypes, whether ofconcentration, of political interest, or ofgeographic origin. And dinner discussions,students say, are lively and varied.

"It's not the sort of place you walk in andfind people arguing over intricacies of Talmudiclaw," says Held.