No.66: Gen Z (and their Questions) Return to Campus

The following is a transcript of Episode 66 of the Identity/Crisis Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Danielle Kranjec:
Hello, and welcome to Identity/Crisis, a show about news and ideas from the Shalom Hartman Institute. My name is Danielle Kranjec and I’m the Director of Campus Initiatives at Hartman. As college students return to campus this fall, some of them for the first time in person, there’s a lot of anxiety around how the stresses of the COVID era and our political polarization will and are impacting Jewish life on campus. Everything from Jewish education, Israel, Jewish peoplehood, and how to live our lives meaningfully as Jewish people. I thought today would be a great opportunity to speak with two of my colleagues from Hillel, Rabbi Jessica Lott, who works on campus at Northwestern University and Rabbi Charlie Schwartz, who works at the Schusterman International Center of Hillel International. I’ve known both of today’s guests for many years and consider both to be my trusted colleagues and mentors with whom I’ve myself have thought through many of the issues that we’ll discuss today. Thank you so much for joining us.

Danielle Kranjec:
I’d love to just start out by asking about the particular moment in which we find ourselves. So we’re in this COVID era with totally polarized politics about everything, including Israel. And I was just wondering, how do you find that the COVID era has changed the “Israel on campus,” conversation?

Jessica Lott:
I’ll jump in. So first of all, thank you so much, Danielle, for inviting me to be on the podcast, I’m really excited. I would say the COVID era has changed everything. So like, of course it’s changed the conversation, but in some ways it might be hard to suss out exactly how it’s changed this conversation in particular. I think if we wanted to pinpoint like COVID has brought to light all the issues that were under the surface in every realm, right? So the problems with the healthcare system, inequities in race and class. So I was trying to think about how has that affected this conversation. And I think it’s actually a subset of the way that it’s affected other conversations. So one thing that I think has really shifted over the course of the last year and a half or so is the way the conversation shows up on social media and people are much more dependent on social media for their connections with other people.

Jessica Lott:
So that has been accelerated, magnified in a way that I think is pretty toxic. And Zoom too, right? Like we’re all on Zoom, but I know that there are things that you might say in a Zoom chat that you would never say to a person’s face that then sort of emboldened people to make wild statements, personal attacks. And so I think that those things all play out in the Israel on campus conversation, right? The way that we use social media – and again, I don’t know if this is about COVID or just about the moment that we’re in – because I can’t separate those because COVID is the moment that we’re in. So having a really concise infographic that oversimplifies a very complicated geopolitical issue is what’s happening right now in the Israel on campus conversation. But I can’t say whether that has to do with COVID. The other thing that I would say might have an impact is since we’re all sort of in low-level trauma – and I think especially students on campus who have all this ambiguous loss in the grief that they have around the college experience that they’re not having – has made everyone just a little edgier. And so conversations like the Israel on campus conversation that are heated when we’re not traumatized, have maybe gotten a little more heated when we are sort of in a general state of not operating as our best selves.

Danielle Kranjec:
One thing that I noticed is maybe before COVID, it was easier to tell our students, oh, what’s happening online is online. It’s not real life, but when their classes, when their Shabbat experiences, when everything is online, it’s a little bit harder to draw those distinctions between social media and real life.

Charlie Schwartz:
Yeah. One of the big pushbacks on the idea of like IRL or “in real life” for younger generations is exactly that is that no, the way I present myself in a digital sphere is actually very, very real. I have a colleague who pushes really back against the idea of calling any meeting, a virtual meeting or any gathering of virtual gathering, because like it’s still real. It’s not virtual, it’s just online. Danielle, I think that’s a hundred percent correct is COVID has sped up that process of making the digital more and more real for more and more people. And when your schoolwork is online, when your community building is online, when your Jewish texts learning is online, the stream of social media and the way it hits you, I think feels more proximal and more real because it is real. And so going back to what Jessica said is when there is antisemitic or anti-Israel things coming up on people’s streams, now that more and more of their social lives are online because of COVID, right? I think it hits them in a much, much deeper and much more traumatic way.

Jessica Lott:
I’m wondering about how this is complicated or informed by the differences in the generations that we see on campus. So Charlie, you and I have known each other since we ourselves were undergrads on campus and Jessica, you and I first met when I began my work as a senior Jewish educator on campus at the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh. At that time, Jessica, you had already been on campus at the University of Maryland for a little while. For me, the eight years that I spent on campus, I saw a real shift where initially millennials, were our students and constituents, now in the Hillel world, millennials are our colleagues and we’re seeing Gen Z coming to campus. And I’m just wondering, how do you see the role of Hillel or shifting in light of these generational differences?

Jessica Lott:
I will say because I also have a crackpot non-rese,arch hypothesis that we also are like creating a sub generation that’s the COVID generation. And that’s where I think it sort of relates to your earlier question, that the people who have lived through this trauma and I think school-age, children, teens, and college students in particular will be shaped by the experience that we are having now and have had over the last year and a half in ways that I think we will end up seeing as a generational shift. So I can talk about what I think, but I think it’s actually also really linked to what’s going on for college students today might even be really different from the conversation we had a year and a half ago about what’s going on with college students today, because we’ve all been transformed by this experience of living through a pandemic.

Charlie Schwartz:
For me, I wonder about what are the through lines and what are the kind of essential questions that remain the same? I think even with generational shifts, those essential questions are the same. So who am I? Who are my people? How do I find community? How do I impact this world? For me, those questions and the way Hillel addresses them, answers them, teaches to them, connects people. Those actually changed significantly. And I would just add in building on Jessica’s point, I think how we find certainty or look for certainty or grounding when the world feels very uncertain. That’s a key question that I think has always been there, but I think it has come to the foreground both in terms of COVID and climate change. So how do I stay grounded? And what’s my foundation, when it feels like everything’s crumbling? That is not a central question, which I think Hillel and Judaism addresses in some powerful ways. So obviously there’s a massive generational shift going on. And I think Jessica is a hundred percent correct in terms of, we don’t know how this experience will impact this micro or macro generation. But I do think that the questions that Hillel asks that Judaism asks that students ask when you zoom out, I actually think they’re largely the same, even if the priority or order of that might change a little bit.

Jessica Lott:
I agree with you so much, Charlie. And I think we often make the mistake of confusing generational identity with life-stage. So I remember several years ago I was in a program that was focused on millennials, but in the middle of it, I was like, you’re not actually talking about millennials, you’re talking about emerging adulthood. And that transcends generation. There are like aspects of emerging adulthood and the college experience that are the same. And then there are generations that shift over time. So right now, when we talk about millennials, we’re talking about young adult professionals and that sort of realm. And I think that because we’re still shifting into Gen Z, some people still think of millennials as emerging adults and in some ways they still are, but then we actually have to treat those things really differently. One thing that I think it’s important to notice, I actually read recently, something that came out of JumpSpark in Atlanta that was talking about teens.

Jessica Lott:
And I think it was based on the Jewish Education’s Project’s research about teens, which was already a few years ago. So those teens from their research a few years ago, the Gen now paper, those are college students now. And one of the things that I think is interesting, or they sort of talked about that Gen Z is less tribalist and more globalist. And I’m actually curious to see, I haven’t necessarily seen that play out, but I think if that’s a trend, I’m curious to see how that affects Hillel and the conversation about Israel. And the other thing that I think is different, it does connect with what Charlie was saying about climate change and about this conflict is that the students today are coming with a very nuanced approach to social justice and equality in society and have not exempted Israel from that conversation.

Jessica Lott:
And actually had a thing that I read from JumpSpark was talking about actually a shift in the understanding of Tikkun Olam and that there’s sort of a problematic around Tikkun Olam and privilege that reinforces the idea that Jews are white people, whose job it is to fix a world that’s broken for other people. And that is something that Gen Z is very aware is just not real. Jews are not all white people. Jews are not all people of privilege. And also some Jews aren’t white people and some Jews aren’t people of privilege. And there’s a really nuanced understanding of that by Gen Z. That to be honest, still like takes me aback.

Danielle Kranjec:
So something that I’ve noticed over the years of working with Hillel is that there seems to be a bit of a blurring of the lines between what Israel engagement and Israel education look like. And I’m just thinking about the kind of nuance and sophistication, Jessica, that you’ve identified our students are coming to us with. And I would just love to hear your perspectives about the difference between Israel engagement and Israel education. What you think is important, how you distinguish these two? Because Charlie, when you said that the essential questions that emerging adults, let’s say, are coming to campus, whether the same, but maybe our interventions are different or the way that we prioritize things are different – I’m just curious how we think that’s going to play out? Because honestly, if you had asked me years ago, what would it look like if we had two years where the majority of our students did not get to go on birthright or do Israel internships? I likely would have said it wouldn’t have a big impact on the way their identity formation or the way the work of Hillel was emerging. But now that we’re in that space, I think it’s clear that there has been a loss. And I’m just wondering if this categorization of engagement versus education with regard to Israel, how it plays out for you and what you think the interventions might be now. As I saw that birthright registration is open for winter trips and there’s still a lot of uncertainty as to whether that can even possibly happen.

Charlie Schwartz:
So from my perspective, the lens can actually be very, very blurry. When you talk about education and advocacy and engagement. The work that I do with Hillel as part of a team is we try to position ourselves and focus really on the educational side and thinking hard about education. So thinking about what are the experiences that deepen people’s level of knowledge of Israel and the complexities of Israel, what are the resources and experiences that are looking for depth without a motive outcome? It’s like really, really a content focused outcome. So how can I make students or help students? And my work is primarily with staff. How can I empower staff to teach content without hoping that a student will love Israel, will move to Israel, or will engage in Israel in a series of other ways? Realizing that like the broad approaches that like, if students have a deeper understanding knowledge base of Israel through an educational lens, among a variety of other lenses, then like those outcomes will ultimately be achieved – that come out of the fact that like the students are looking for honest, deep content that matches the approaches and ideas that they’re experiencing in the classroom, but from a Jewish perspective, right?

Charlie Schwartz:
And that’s, from my perspective, what the educational approach provides that it’s not trying to get you to do something. It’s not trying to get you to sign up for something. It’s not trying to get you to feel a certain way, rather saying like here’s a deep body of content and complex society that you may or may not be connected to in some deep way that you can dive into. From the same way we talk about diving into a sea of Talmud, like what does it mean to dive into the sea and complexity that’s Israel? So from my team’s approach, the educational focus is really about deepening that knowledge level in a way that answers students’ questions and curiosities without asking them to arrive at a certain end destination.

Jessica Lott:
As usual, I agree with Charlie. And I think that one it’s very hard for me to even draw a line between engagement and education. And I spent a lot of my career and my time at Hillel international trying to like fight that distinction that actually our engagement work is educational and our educational work should be engaging. That like we are inviting people in to Jewish community through lots of different avenues and that every educational opportunities and engagement opportunity and every engagement opportunity is an educational opportunity. And if you think that you’re not educating when you’re engaging students, you’re wrong, even if it’s that, it’s just, “just” you know, in quotes, an engagement associate taking an unengaged student out for coffee, they’re engaging with them as a Jewish role model and their sharing of self is education. And so I fight against distinguishing the two and I think in particular around Israel, righ now, what I’m sort of seeing is that – and this is related to all of the things we’ve talked about before beautifully – the fact that we have students who have a really sophisticated, nuanced understandings of issues that they care about, and they do not on the whole have a sophisticated understanding of Israel and its history and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and all of those things, their lack of education might be impeding engagement, right?

Jessica Lott:
Because it’s sort of like, I don’t know enough to engage in this conversation. And I think one of the struggles is that because of the nature of campus and sort of how things work and especially when things become politically heated, like they did last spring, Jewish students are sort of expected unfairly, I think by their peers to have a sophisticated understanding of the history and the conflict of having opinion and the majority of Jewish students don’t because they haven’t had deep educational experiences because we thought that just engagement was like enough or that the engagement that we did was all the education they needed.

Jessica Lott:
And that like just liking Israel and having positive associations with it, which on the whole, most Jewish college students today do. But I still think that there’s like students don’t necessarily have a sophisticated understanding and that is impeding their desire to engage in the conversation. I also think there’s a piece of when students do learn a lot about what’s happening, it might quote unquote backfire, like what they learn. Doesn’t sit well with them, or they’re like willing to be critical in a way that I think their parents’ generation, my parents’ generation certainly like was not willing to be critical of the Israeli government and its policies and the way that that works and they’re willing to say, okay, I learned a lot. And I don’t like what I saw and I’m not sure what we do about that because especially right, North American Jewish college students can actually change Israeli governmental policy.

Jessica Lott:
The Israeli government can’t even change is really governmental policy. So like how can we expect students to, and I think that also this connects to the like soundbite and Instagram square-ization of the conversation. Other students seem to have a very easy, simple read of the conflict. And many students who don’t have a deep education will sort of think like, oh, that’s the read and they don’t have the ability or the knowledge or the skills or the background to make their own Instagram square, or even maybe the confidence to say there’s like a lot more than a square can capture on this and that it’s worth doing the deeper work and the deeper conversation and the deeper education to get there.

Charlie Schwartz:
So a couple of “yes and”s. First I think the idea of an educational process backfiring and I think that’s where powerful Jewish role models come in. And like as Hillel professionals, the way that we can model what a student might be going through or reflect like that process in some ways, realizing that the Hillel professionals have a huge variety of political ideas, but in the ways that we can model people who take these ideas seriously and take challenges and critique seriously, that can be very, very powerful. And then why we need like the best people on campus right now and why by and large that’s where they are. The other piece, just thinking about the need for every student is different. Every campus is different. Students and campuses by and large deal with similar issues, but there is nuance into individuals and campus experience. So also thinking about what are the different approaches that we have, we’re different campuses, different students and different moments in time that can be deployed in different ways.

Charlie Schwartz:
And when I think about advocacy, education, and engagement for some campuses, the most powerful, important thing might be like the first step of getting as many students to Israel as possible, regardless of what their experiences. At another campus, it might actually be like a very specific kind of trip or a different kind of educational experience. And when critique of Israel pleasing to anti-Semitism, hat response is actually very, very different and nuanced to response as well. So also thinking about what are the resources and skills and expertise that Hillel has, like it can train up and deploy in different ways and does to meet the different needs and challenges regardless of generational shift. Just what happens at UT Austin is very different than what happens at Maryland.

Jessica Lott:
A hundred percent. I’ve got someone who worked on four different campuses and at Hillel international for six years, I can’t say enough times that every campus is different and every campus is the same. That there are like universal things about the college experience and about the university college setting in that higher education. That’s why we can make jokes about that. And everyone has its own context and what the problems are and what the possibilities are vary so greatly from Hillel to Hillel, depending on what’s the campus context? Where are they situated geographically? What’s the local leadership? Who’s your Hillel director? Actually makes a very big difference in terms of what the conversation is, what the priorities are, who is on your board, who are your student leaders, all of that really matters, and also doesn’t matter at all.

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Danielle Kranjec:
People who aren’t familiar with the campus initiatives portfolio at the Hartman Institute, something that we’ve been using as a guiding principle that is definitely informed by my years, spent on campus and working at a multi-campus Hillel is this idea that a shared language will help contribute to resiliency. So at the beginning, Jessica, you were talking about the kind of fragility that comes when people feel loss and grief. And I’m really interested in seeing how educational resources and education as education, not just engagement, but very deep educational frameworks, particularly those that emerge from the I-Engage project, how those shared thick ideas can help strengthen our students and therefore Jewish life on campus. So I think both of you know, that this month and August, 2021, we gathered a group of students at Hartman north America, about half of whom were nominated by their Hillels to come together and have these discussions and do some I-Engage learning.

Danielle Kranjec:
And it was extraordinary to hear them say exactly what you’ve both just said, that every campus is different and every campus is the same. And I think there’s a lot of learning that can come through difference. And there’s a lot of learning that can come through similarity and connection. So I’m really inspired by the Hartman partnership with Hillel and thinking about how we can use the resources that we have to further inform what’s going on and hopefully to take some risks, right? Because if we’re feeling secure and safe and that we have our network and that it’s robust, I think it does empower us to maybe go there in a way that we wouldn’t otherwise. When I first started working at Hillel, the Open Hillel movement was big news, let’s say. And although I don’t think it is of the same relevancy that it was in 2014, I am deeply interested in how the Hillel movement on campus can continue to balance a commitment to design ism with a robust pluralism. And I would love to hear your visions, whether they agree or disagree about what that could look like.

Jessica Lott:
First respond to one thing that you said about shared language. And then we can answer the question about pluralism. Because look like I’m a rabbi and a Jewish educator language matters. We come from a tradition that says that God created the world with words, right? Language really matters. And we try to establish a shared language. But one of the other things that has happened in the conversation around Israel on campus is actually a shift in language that’s been, I think, really I don’t even know what the word is destabilizing for Jewish students and for Hillel professionals. So things like you, can’t say it’s a conflict. You can’t say it’s complicated. The introduction of the language of settler colonialism and people using those words without knowing what they mean. And actually maybe even having different definitions of what they mean, depending on who you are in the conversation has really had an impact on the conversation. Again someone else recently told me, you’re not supposed to say conversation. That actually that stuff, that there’s a fight to redefine what the language is, the discourse and a battle for what is the appropriate language to use.

Jessica Lott:
And it might be different from the language that we’ve been using internally in the Jewish community in a way that’s very important to pay attention to. That’s just an aside about shared language. In terms of pluralism. I think this is me speaking for me. I think pluralism needs to apply with regard to Israel the same way it does with regard to Shabbat and God and kashrut. You can be a part of a community at Hillel, regardless of how you do Shabbat, regardless of what you believe about God, regardless of what kind of kashrut you keep, regardless of where you stand politically about Israel. And we have a particular way that we do Shabbat in the building, and we have particular rules around kashrut in our building who might also say that doesn’t mean that every idea is welcome to have a platform that we’re going to promote around stuff about Israel.

Jessica Lott:
So I think that there actually is sort of the misconception that that means students with particular ideas are not welcome. And therefore Hillel does not actually have a commitment to pluralism around Zionism, but I think that’s just not the case. I think pluralism is just really hard. And that Hillels are one of the places where we see the largest cross-section of Jews in the established Jewish world. And so it makes it really hard. And there are many places where many Hillelss are not like large, robust communities that can have like a group for this and a group for that and a group for this and a group for that. And a group like seven different Israel groups that all hold different opinions and three different kinds of services on Shabbat. That’s just not the case on the majority of campuses. And so there needs to be some sort of consensus and pluralism actually looks different within different Hillels. So I worked at one Hillel. I was like, you know, they’d have Shabbat. And that is like, we have one option and everybody’s doing it together. I also worked at Hillel where there were dozens of options of what could be happening. And those are both pluralism. And so too with Israel and with Zionism.

Charlie Schwartz:
Jessica, just thinking about your comment about norms, the text that’s often brought up, this kind of supported a Jewish approach to pluralism is “elu v’elu divrei elohim hayyim hem,” “these and those are the words of the living God.” But the next line is “aval halakha k’beit Hillel,” “and we follow Beit Hillel.” Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai were these two great schools of Jewish thought that argued all the time with each other. And at the end of the day, in most cases, we follow Beit Hillel. So the idea that we have in a pluralistic society or organization, we still have norms and we still have guidelines and there’s still like a range of practice, but still a sense of practice is baked into the system. And I would say is actually an important part of how we approach these things.

Jessica Lott:
I want to build on that because the Talmud then asked the question, “why, if they’re both right, why do we go with Hillel?” And the answer is because Hillel used to teach the opposing opinion and his own opinion, right? That Hillel used to teach Shamai’s answer first, and then also teach his own answer. And that’s even more so the example is it’s like, yes, we have a standard, but we also don’t only teach our opinion. We actually like equip people with all of the information and we might even teach what is considered the opposing opinion first so that people can understand that.

Danielle Kranjec:
I have a question about that though, because if we’re talking about this life stage of emerging adulthood, where people have these pressing questions that Charlie mentioned at the beginning, isn’t there something de-stabilizing about presenting this whole variety of opinions? Like isn’t there something risky and potentially dangerous for us to teach everything and to teach it “out of order” as beit Hillel did of teaching the opposing opinion first?

Charlie Schwartz:
Yeah. So two thoughts on that. Like one, I think when we’re talking about dangers, I think the bigger danger is not doing that because we’ve talked about generational shifts, like the focus on authenticity and finding truth and pursuing truth as being like a central idea of Gen Z. Like I think the bigger, dangerous idea is: we’re not going to teach this stuff, we’re going to obscure it. And then people finding out and then pushing back. So that’s one, and two, again, like the reason that the best people come to Hillel and we need the best people for Hillel is like to model complicated Jewish lives that are asking deep questions and manifesting those questions and their behaviors in the world, I think is so important. Like the role of senior Jewish educators, the role of engagement professionals, you know, the role of Springboard, fellows, modeling people who don’t have all the answers, but are committed to Jewish life in some key ways. I think that, you know, you can teach any level of complexity if you can then model some way of behaving in the world that is focused on a sense of belonging to the Jewish people and a dedication to some idea of Torah and mitzvot, you can take them any direction. But yeah, so I think that the role of Hillel professionals then becomes so, so important because you can address deep complicated matters and say like, and I struggle with this, and I’m still committed to the Jewish people for these reasons for me.

Jessica Lott:
That’s part of the mission of universities, right? There’s like a huge marketplace of ideas that students are being presented with. And we sort of work alongside that. I do think part of the point of universities is to present people with new information and sometimes conflicting information and help them figure out who they are in the world who they’re going to be professionally. And our role sort of sits alongside the role of universities to really be able to have them fulfill a bigger part of their mission, which is what’s my inner life? What are deeper parts of my identity outside of who I might be aspiring to become professionally? Maybe also connected with who I’m aspiring to become professionally. And that that’s a piece of what I think we’re doing.

Charlie Schwartz:
Just going back to the idea of language and how we construct reality around language. I think it’s important to remember that this stuff shifts radically over time and also shifts geographically. So when I was an undergrad in the early two thousands, Palestinian, Palestine, those words were not said in Jewish, communal contexts. I remember hearing people kind of stumble over them. And in my experience out in the majority of places like those words are now fine for people to use. After I graduated, I moved to Israel and I enlisted in the army and I was in a unit of largely left-wing socialist kibbutznikim. And I was astounded by the language that they’re using to describe the Israeli army presence in at that time the Gaza strip and the West Bank. And these were people in the army. And so I was like, you can’t use those words.

Charlie Schwartz:
And so just remember, like the language that we use shifts over time sometimes for better, sometimes for worse and really shifts geographically. Remember there’s a dynamic nature to how we talk about things. The other point I want to make quickly is that the pluralism around Israel around all things is hard at Hilel, is harder because we have a mandate to positively impact every Jewish student on campus. And when we shifted from like more Jewish students or a lot of Jewish students or whatever it came before to every Jewish student, that means that we’re asking for every Jewish student’s voice to be at the table and to maintain some level of community when you have that level of diversity is challenging and it’s going to be hard. But that audacious goal of saying like, no, we have the obligation to impact every student and we need to figure out what that means to how to build community and to struggle with what community is and can be, it’s an incredible thing to be doing. And it’s really, really hard. So when you expand who you’re inviting to the table and who feels comfortable at the table, or for some Hillels, like in the building, right? Those conversations, how we do pluralism is inherently going to be harder and more important and more valuable and more impactful.

Jessica Lott:
I want to say one more thing about language because in my life, when I didn’t become a campus rabbi, I totally became a linguist. And I think they’re related, but there are two places where language gets created. One is in academia and the other is teenage girls, right, is in social media. And we’re at the intersection of those two places, right? So like we’re having the Tik-Tok influence on language and the Instagram influence on language. And then we also are at this place where it’s also academics, who are coining new terms, and those two things are happening in a really interesting intersection on campus.

Danielle Kranjec:
So I have a question for both of you, if we have this model of “elu v’elu,”,”these and those,” both of these sets of ideas are worthy to be taught. And there’s one that we hold closer as we are Beit Hillel, the house of Hillel. And there’s one that isn’t as close, but we also feel as valid. What are those other sets of ideas that we might associate as our Shammai ideas that we should be teaching? Whose narratives should we be raising up? Charlie, you spoke about every Jewish student having their voice at the table. So when we think about our pluralism and whether this is related to Israel or something else with Jewish peoplehood, what are we not teaching? Let’s say that we should be teaching in our “elu v’elu” model, because both of you as sort of veteran educators with regard to campus, and with regard to this model, I want to know what risks should we be taking? What will enrich our conversation? What’s going to cause the divine voice to emerge and to give us the blessing?

Charlie Schwartz:
I have a list. Do you want me to pull out my top 10?

Danielle Kranjec:
Yes.

Charlie Schwartz:
So just caveating these like these are like the normative halakha Hillel, the metaphoric, what are the beit Shammai stuff that we should be teaching? I think a Jewish identity where Israel’s not a central part of it. I think it is something that a lot of students come to the table with and finding ways to honor that – that Zionism might not have to be the central element of who you are to be a deeply committed Jew. I think that’s one. I think the language of obligation, when we think about how are we obligated to a tradition and what are we obligated to do is something that we don’t always teach well. And I think it might be becoming a beit Shammai idea. Tefillah, what does prayer look like? How do we create communities that are based on prayer? I think is becoming more a more beit Shammai position. And how do we educate and open students up to the possibility of mystical experience. I think that maybe that’s always been a beit Shammai position.

Jessica Lott:
Okay. So I was thinking that you were specifically talking about around the conversation about Israel on campus in terms of this, which is like, I don’t know. I feel like it’s easier for me to answer the, like, what are the things that we’re not teaching that we should be teaching more broadly? And it’s harder for me to suss out what should we be teaching? I do think that I agree wholeheartedly with the teaching of ambivalence about Israel. I think that a lot of students will see themselves in that. And I think it’s important because I think it’s a departure from what the dominant narrative of our tradition has been over time. And maybe also even the distinction between the modern state of Israel and the longing and yearning for homeland and like the question of: are those the same thing? I think the other Shammai voices, and I’m hesitant to say this, because I don’t know how we do this, right? Are and anti-Zionist voices and Palestinian narratives, and Palestinian perspectives. The voices of Jews of color and their experience that have not been sort of dominant in the perspectives we’re usually teaching. And Mizrachi voices from within Israel. And that’s not to say that I hold them as opposing. I hold them as non-dominant, potentially.

Charlie Schwartz:
Where I struggle is like the difference between the ambivalence towards Israel and towards Zionism versus like anti-Zionism. And so speaking for me, like having an ambivalent approach to Zionism or Zionism is not part of your Jewish identity, for me like that’s well within the tent. And then where I struggle is like, I’m actually not sure if anti-Zionism is. And so if that is a voice, I think critique, I think questioning, I think all those things, but for me the issues around anti-Zionism and the kind of cluster of antisemitic ideas that it brings up, even when it comes from inside the Jewish community, I like pushes that away from like, beit Shammai so for me, that’s like not part of like the beit Shammai – Beit Hillel kind of debates.

Jessica Lott:
So you’re talking about non-Zionist versus anti-Zionist.

Charlie Schwartz:
Yeah, exactly. Non-Zionist versus anti-Zionist. And I know there are a number of anti-Zionist Jewish students. And I’m not saying that these are folks who should be welcomed to Hillel buildings, because just because you said like students practices and beliefs are in some ways not relevant to what we do to welcome them into a diverse and vibrant community. But in terms of teaching, thinking about privileging ideas for me, like that one feels actually outside of the framework of pluralism.

Jessica Lott:
Right? Like even Hillel and Shammai, right. Like there’s also like some other dude out there. Hillel and Shammai were both operating within the bounds and sort of the same language of Jewish law and practice, but had disagreements from within that framework. And there are also people who are operating outside of that framework completely who are not included in the “elu v’elu.” I’ve also had really interesting conversations. Like not everything fits in to “elu v’elu.” It’s not like, well, your truth and my truth, if one of the truths is just not true. And that’s where sort of, I think people have a misunderstanding of “elu v’elu” does not mean anything goes and everyone’s truth is true.

Danielle Kranjec:
Here’s the challenge I have for that though, because I think in some ways it’s easier to bring a non-Jewish voice, like a Palestinian voice than to bring an anti Zionist Jewish voice into the conversation.

Charlie Schwartz:
Yeah. I think that’s totally true. For me, that’s totally true because there’s like distance in some ways. What I find terrifying and exhilarating about your question, Danielle, about like, who are the beit Shammai’s right now are like the voices that I don’t even know I’m not hearing. So I remember the first time I read a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, famous Palestinian poet, and it like blew my mind. I was like, this is what’s coming from like a totally different perspective than I have, but it still feels very close to me, but has all these ideas that feel very distant from me. I’m like when I started listening to that voice, it changed the way I thought about Palestinian relationship to land. And so like what I find terrifying about the question about what are the beit Shammai’s now are the ones that I don’t even know I’m not hearing and I haven’t even heard of yet. And what I find exhilarating is like knowing that there are voices that I don’t know that I’m not hearing that I’ll have the opportunity to hear from and learn from in the future.

Danielle Kranjec:
Amazing. Well, I think that’s a really beautiful kavana for us, a beautiful intention for us to set for ourselves as Jewish educators, as we’re in the month of Elul, as we are headed into Rosh Hashana to the Jewish new year. I know Jessica is organizing High Holiday experiences for her campus, particularly, and Charlie is holding the High Holiday experience for Hillel international and coordinating any number of experiences that will be accessible to students across North America and indeed the world. So I just want to thank both of you so much for taking time to talk to us at Hartman today. And I want to bless you both with so much success and so much beautiful Jewish learning and uncovering those voices that we don’t even know in the coming year. So thank you. Thank you so much.

Jessica Lott:
Thanks, Danielle. Thanks, Charlie.

Charlie Schwartz:
Thank you so much. Really great being here.

Danielle Kranjec:
Thanks. Thank you.

Danielle Kranjec:
Thanks for listening to our show and special thanks to this week’s guests, Rabbi Charlie Schwartz from Hillel International and Rabbi Jessica Lott from Northwestern University Hillel. Identity/Crisis is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced this week by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Alex Dillon with assistance from Miri Miller and music provided by So-called. Transcripts of our shows are now available on our website typically a week after an episode airs to find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online shalomhartman.org. We want to know what you think about the show you can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people discover the show. You can also write to us [email protected] Subscribe to our show in the Apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, audible, and everywhere else podcasts are available. See you next week and thanks for listening.