Where is Hillel? A case study of Hillel and the University of Pennsylvania

Judith Anne Silverman, University of Pennsylvania


The relationship between Hillel and the University of Pennsylvania is explored in this study. Hillel is a quasi-affiliate and not officially part of Penn. Once considered solely as a support network for religious students, Hillel has redefined itself since 1990 and is partnering with Penn in a variety of ways. Conversely, Penn relies on services provided by Hillel to serve its Jewish constituency. The 1990 National Jewish Population Study calculated that 85% of Jews from ages 18–24 attend college. Eighty percent attend 109 universities where the Jewish student population tops 1000. Despite large numbers, commitment to Jewish observance is declining, as is philosophical and philanthropic commitment to Jewish life and Israel. Choices about Judaism, researchers have found, start once college students live without parental guidance. Jewish student numbers at Penn remain at 30%, and students who identify as Jewish community members make up 10–12%. Hillel's mission, “increasing the number of Jews doing Jewish with other Jews,” could affect 3,000 students if all Jewish students affiliated. The research focuses upon the relationship between Hillel and Penn. What kinds of formal and informal organizational frameworks create this relationship? How is the relationship affected historically by higher education and religion in the United States, the history of Jewish students, and the history of Hillel? It also addresses issues specifically related to administration, student development, and institutional branding. In administration: How do land ownership, building ownership, and kosher meal plans affect both entities? How is fundraising impacted? In student development: How do services provided by Hillel (social, religious, cultural and academic) affect the mission of both entities? How does a secular campus address student spirituality? In institutional branding: How does Penn's status as the “Jewish Ivy,” supported by Hillel, affect its student recruitment? Interviews of 36 key individuals provide the data for the study, triangulated with institutional documents from both organizations. Other institutions interested in developing their Hillel-University relationships, or similar relationships, may draw upon the dissertation's conclusion.

Subject Area

Higher education|Religious education

Recommended Citation

Silverman, Judith Anne, "Where is Hillel? A case study of Hillel and the University of Pennsylvania" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3084865.