restricted access “Is This We Have among Us Here a Jew?” The Hillel Review and Jewish Identity at the University of Wisconsin, 1925–31
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In March 1925 a new student-produced periodical appeared at the University of Wisconsin, designed to “awaken a greater interest, a more active participation, a more sincere and determined effort on the part of the student community to further all things Jewish.” The Hillel Review,1 which would publish for the next thirty-six years, defined “all things Jewish” as “cultural Judaism” at Wisconsin. Examples of this “cultural Judaism” in this first year included lectures by visiting rabbis and Wisconsin professors, purely social functions like dances and teas, a noncredit course in early Jewish history and philosophy, discussion groups on current events, and student-produced plays. Hillel Review’s main function, initially, was to publicize these events.2 Over the next six years, the Hillel Review’s definition of “Jewish culture ” expanded to include religious life and Zionism, two other major components of what contemporary scholars, and even 1920s Jewish leaders, considered the main building blocks of Jewish identity. The concept of Jewishness as a culture appealed to Jews around the world who had come to question orthodox Judaism but bristled at the antisemitic3 idea that Jews were a distinct race.4 156 > “Is This We Have among Us Here a Jew?” The Hillel Review and Jewish Identity at the University of Wisconsin, 1925–31  . .  Most forms of Jewish print culture during this time focused on one of these aspects of Jewish identity. The Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox branches of Judaism published materials on religious practice, directed at rabbis as well as the broader Jewish public. By the 1920s most major cities had at least one English-language Jewish weekly, devoted to the social whirl of the communities they covered, along with publicity for fund-raising drives and coverage of the Zionist movement. The Yiddish-language press included a variety of periodicals, from socialist and communist newspapers to religious writings. Like other foreignlanguage newspapers, Yiddish papers served as agents for “Americanization ,” helping first-generation Americans make sense of their surroundings in a familiar language. Publications of Jewish lodges and mutual-aid societies, especially the International Order of B’nai B’rith,5 sought to present Jewish ideas in a consciously American context, stressing the Jewish roots of American ideas as well as individual Jews’ contributions to American society. The Hillel Review, though, attempted to cover Judaism, Zionism, Jewish life abroad, and local Jewish social life in one periodical. Although there were still some Jewish students coming to Wisconsin who had been born abroad, after the mid-1920s the vast majority of Jewish students at Wisconsin had been born in the United States and attended American schools, so they were immersed in American culture. Too young for membership in any but the “junior” branches of Jewish mutual-aid and charitable societies, Jewish college students nonetheless craved the same kinds of social news that their parents read about in the Anglo-Jewish press. During the first five years of the Hillel Review’s publication, which coincided with the years that the chapter was led by Reform rabbi Solomon Landman, Hillel Review editors sought to reclaim traditional Jewish practice for college students, even when these ideas contradicted the ideals of B’nai B’rith, the Hillel Foundation’s parent organization, or the Reform movement. As a result, the first five years of Hillel Review display a transition from a purely social Jewish identity to an identity more closely tied to religious, Zionist, and global Jewish concerns. Inspirations for the Hillel Foundation B’nai B’rith, the Menorah Society (a national Jewish debating society, explained in detail below), and the watchful eyes of college students’ The Hillel Review 157 parents provided three guiding forces for the development of a Jewish student group that would address the social, intellectual, and religious meanings of Jewish culture at Wisconsin. These three forces came together in Wisconsin’s Hillel Foundation, which gave its name to the Hillel Review. Wisconsin’s was the second such foundation created by B’nai B’rith. B’nai B’rith’s approach to Jewish identity was the base of Hillel’s philosophy in the early years of the organization. B’nai B’rith dates back to the 1840s, when German Jews had begun to settle in the United States in some numbers. The Jewish settlers who had fanned out across the country ranged from Orthodox Jews to nonbelievers . The founders of B’nai B’rith wanted to create a mutual-aid society in which Jewish men could associate with their fellow Jews free...


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