Office of the President

Jewish Life and Scholarship at Oberlin

March 29, 2018

While we appreciate the concerns of the Alumni for Campus Fairness (ACF), we feel the picture they paint is not an accurate representation of Oberlin College and contemporary Jewish life on our campus.

Approximately 23 percent of our students identify as Jewish. Our two campus rabbis work with Oberlin students, one from Hillel, the other from Chabad. Students lead a variety of organizations focused on Jewish life and culture.

Oberlin’s institutional commitment to Jewish life and scholarship is broad and deep. For example:

  • Students can major or minor in Jewish Studies, an interdisciplinary program that teaches students to appreciate and analyze both continuities and differences in Jewish history, religion, and culture around the world.
  • Students have an opportunity to live in Hebrew Heritage House located in Johnson House (J House), a Jewish Studies program residence. J House has a Jewish Student Life Coordinator who encourages and facilitates Jewish activities at Oberlin.
  • Hillel at Oberlin and Chabad at Oberlin sponsor Taglit-Birthright Israel trips.
  • Oberlin students can choose to dine in Kosher-Halal Co-op (KHC), a dining-only co-op which simultaneously abides by traditional Jewish and Muslim dietary laws.
  • Chabad at Oberlin offers a range of programs and creates an environment where students, regardless of background, affiliation, or personal beliefs are welcome to investigate their Jewish identities and relationships.

We are deeply committed to Jewish studies and Jewish life as important parts of Oberlin’s tradition. The chair of our Board of Trustees recently met with the director of Chabad at Oberlin. I recently met with the president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, the Executive Director of the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, and other leaders from the Cleveland Jewish community to discuss ways to strengthen the ties between Oberlin’s students, faculty and staff, and that community. Hillel is an important partner in our work to ensure that our campus supports a broad range of Jewish life. Oberlin Hillel is a student-centered, pluralistic Jewish space that welcomes people of all movement and secular backgrounds, cultures, sexual orientations and gender identities, and empowers them to create and strengthen their own Jewish identities.

Please see below for Hillel’s statement reiterating our meaningful and productive partnership. Chabad’s statement about Jewish life at Oberlin can be read here:

Like the wider American Jewish community, Oberlin’s vibrant Jewish community represents a diversity of beliefs and practices, including a diversity of perspectives about Israel.  

The College supports this diversity in a range of ways. But it does not exercise centralized control over the kinds of events these groups hold. Our policy on campus speakers is like that at most institutions of higher education; we don’t dictate to student groups who they may or may not invite to speak. Regarding our policy of not publicly responding to provocations, ACF’s characterization distorts the policy, which you can read in full here:

The College widely publicizes its policies and procedures related to discrimination and harassment. We welcome reports from anyone who feels they have experienced such prohibited behavior in the context of a College program or activity.   

We abhor antisemitism and all forms of discrimination and harassment. We will continue to be vigilant in ensuring our campus is safe for all students, faculty, and staff, especially those who identify as Jewish. 

We always appreciate hearing concerns from alumni. But we don’t think the ACF’s characterization of what’s happening in Oberlin is fair or accurate. The data they provided is based on an assessment they made from a distance with partial information. To give one brief example, our events calendar is an opt-in system so many campus events are not listed there. We respectfully disagree with their process and the conclusions they have drawn. 

We value our relationships with Hillel and Chabad and our Jewish students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni. Like every campus, we do not exist in a bubble. We sometimes have to respond to incidents that don’t reflect our values. We do so with clarity and purpose according to campus policies designed to promote open and respectful discourse in a diverse and inclusive learning environment.   

We encourage alumni who have questions about Jewish life at Oberlin to reach out to our rabbis on campus.

Carmen Twillie Ambar

Hillel statement:

“Oberlin College Hillel and the Cleveland Hillel Foundation welcome the involvement and concerns of alumni regarding Jewish life and Israel programming on campus. We are committed to working with the College to ensure a safe and rich campus environment for all Jewish students. We are actively engaged with President Ambar, who has made clear to us and our partners at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, in both actions and words, that maintaining a healthy campus environment for all, including Jewish students, remains a top priority. We believe that the Jewish community at Oberlin is vibrant and strong, and Hillel is working diligently to inspire all Jewish students to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life and community.”