ISU Hillel: A Jewish Student Club

Happy Jewish American Heritage Month!

Currently, Iowa State University boasts two recognized Jewish student organizations on campus: Hillel and Chabad. Because we, unfortunately, do not have an abundance of archival documentation on either, my knowledge of their histories is a bit murky. However, I have located some traces of ISU Hillel (a branch of a national organization by the same name) back to 1940, which appears to have been its date of arrival on campus. If this is indeed the correct date, and the club has been active continuously since that point, which seems to be the case, then next year, 2020, will be their 80th anniversary.

The earliest mention I found was a page from the 1942 Bomb yearbook, which featured a full page on the group after they chose to forgo an annual banquet so they could dedicate their entire event budget to the purchase of a patriotic war bond instead. The page details the group’s origins, touches on their weekly activities, and names club officers.

A page from the 1942 Bomb Yearbook, page 173, which reads as follows. Title: Hillel Club Purchase National Defense Bond. Text: Hillel Foundations are sponsered by B'nai B'rith, America's oldest and largest service organization, for the purpose of bringing more adequate knowledge of their heritage to the Jewish students of the university campus. Units are supervised by trained professional directors who cooperate with representative student leaders in the task of making Jewish religious and cultural values vital and relevant for the college generation. The first Hillel Foundation was established in 1923 at the University of Illinois. There are now 60 units, strategically centered in every part of the country. In 1940 a counselorship was awarded the group at Iowa State College, Rabbi Morris N. Kentzer, director at the University of Iowa, was made this group's director also. Dispensing with the tradition of the annual banquet, the Hillel group purchased a Defense Bond with the money that would have been used for food. The group meets weekly in the Pine Room at the memorial Union. After a short business session, a speaker is featured who may discuss religion, international affairs or student problems. Officers: Ben Bookless, president: Ann Harris, secretary: louis Plotkin, program chairman: Robert Ettinger, representative to Interchurch Council: Sylvia Kalnitsky, Corresponding secretary.

1942 Bomb Yearbook, page 173

Owing in part to the existence of a campus-wide “Religious Emphasis Week” in the 1940s, many of the ISC ’40s yearbooks feature sections on religious and service organizations, and these include images of the Hillel club sporadically through about 1949.

1946 Bomb Yearbook, page 120. There are group pictures and the following title: "Bit and Spurs rode show horses in Veishea; Hillel group took part in campus WSSF aid."

1946 Bomb Yearbook, page 120

1947 Bomb Yearbook, including group pictures of the Hillel club. The text reads: "B'Nai Brith Hillel. As part of a B'Nai Brith, national Jewish religious organization, Hillel held Friday evening religious services. Social hours, an informal winter dance, and a spring banquet featured the social program. President for the year was Harley Babbitz."

1947 Bomb Yearbook, page 159

Images of group shots of the Hillel Club. The title reads, "Hillel maintained its ties with the Jewish students association."

1948 Bomb Yearbook, page 162

Two images feature group pictures of the Hillel Club. Text reads: "Hillel. The members of B'nai B'rith Hillel used their weekly programs to combine social and cultural interests. The Hillel Players became an active group spring quarter. At the annual Memorial Day picnic awards were given to students for outstanding service to the group. Beatrice Shapiro was president; Richard Caplan, vice-president; Esther Medalie, treasurer; and Sol Hoffman, secretary.

1949 Bomb Yearbook, page 264

Researchers will be glad to see that most of these captions identify the individuals pictured, which means it may be possible to reconstruct membership rosters for the club’s early years, if these do not exist elsewhere, and/or look up additional information about graduating seniors’ majors or other campus involvement.

Several yearbook indexes post 1949, in fact, list B’nai B’rith Hillel under entries for senior activities, so we can surmise that the club was still in existence after this point, even if campus publications did not cover its activities as thoroughly.

Within the University Archives collections, however, we have some club ephemera that picks up documentation again in the 1970s.

Draft of a purpose statement on a fragment of paper. Text reads: "B'Nai B'rith Hillel. The purposes of B'Nai B'Rith Hillel are to provide for the social and religious needs of the group here at Iowa State College. Any person interested in the organization may join by paying the dues of $1.00 per year. During the year religious services, and discussion groups are held in room 222 of the Memorial Union every Friday night. Yearly reports of the organization may be obtained from the councilor of the local chapter."

Draft of a purpose statement on a fragment of paper. No date, but circa 1970. RS 22/8/0/2 Box 1, folder titled “B’nai B’rith Hillel (Jewish)”

Handwritten calendar and financial statement for club activities for the 1972-1973 school year. For details on text, please contact the ISU archives.

Handwritten calendar and financial statement for club activities. RS 22/8/0/2 Box 1, folder titled “B’nai B’rith Hillel (Jewish)”

A number of these documents are internal club records — handwritten accounts detailing yearly activities and budgets. Correspondence included in this folder suggests that ISU student groups were being required for the first time to submit annual paperwork in order to maintain an official affiliation with the university, and/or receive funding. So these single-page accounts may have been drawn up for an early version of what is now the club recognition process.

Handwritten calendar and financial statement for club activities for the 1972-1973 school year. For details on text, please contact the ISU archives.

RS 22/8/0/2 Box 1, folder titled “B’nai B’rith Hillel (Jewish)”

There are also a few 1970s programs, like the 1974 handout below, which advertises a series of Holocaust memorial events.

Front of the handout. For details on text, please contact the ISU archives.

Front of the handout, RS 22/8/0/2 Box 1, folder titled “B’nai B’rith Hillel (Jewish)”

Back of the handout. For details on text, please contact the ISU University Archives.

Back of the handout, RS 22/8/0/2 Box 1, folder titled “B’nai B’rith Hillel (Jewish)”

There are also a few newspaper clippings that date from the late 1970s through the early 1990s, again evidencing that the group was active on campus throughout that time, if not particularly well-documented in archival records.

RS22-08-00-02_1978

Article from the Iowa State Daily, February 2, 1978

Article from the Iowa State Daily, August 6, 1991

Article from the Iowa State Daily, August 6, 1991

If you have more information or documentation regarding the history of ISU’s B’Nai B’rith Hillel club, or of other Jewish organizations or events on campus, please feel free to contact the University Archives at archives@iastate.edu. We would love to hear from you.

2 thoughts on “ISU Hillel: A Jewish Student Club

  1. Diana D. Shonrock

    This is very interesting —is there someone active that can be contacted on campus still today?? I love all the fascinating things you find.
    Diana

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