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Harvard Undergraduates Form Forward-Thinking Jewish Union

Around a dozen Jewish undergraduates formed the Harvard Forward-Thinking Jewish Union.
Around a dozen Jewish undergraduates formed the Harvard Forward-Thinking Jewish Union. By Marina Qu
By Caroline K. Hsu, Crimson Staff Writer

Around a dozen Jewish undergraduates formed the Harvard Forward-Thinking Jewish Union last semester to create a space for students to engage in discussions questioning Zionism and Jewish life on campus.

The progressive Jewish group’s formation comes amid deep campus tensions over the Israel-Hamas war, exacerbated by national attention on pro-Palestine student protestors and a congressional investigation into antisemitism at Harvard.

FJU co-organizer Serena Jampel ’25 said members of the group had been meeting informally for some time, but were spurred by the reaction to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks against Israel to create a more formal space for “progressive Judaism or outside of the box thinking.”

Jampel, a Crimson magazine editor, said the group has a heavy overlap with Harvard Jews for Palestine, an unofficial pro-Palestine protest group which came to prominence for staging a 24-hour occupation of University Hall demanding Harvard administrators endorse a ceasefire in Gaza.

Both Harvard Jews for Palestine and FJU are unrecognized by Harvard College due to a freeze on new student organizations announced in September.

She described FJU as a progressive supplement to the more established Jewish student organizations, Harvard Chabad and Harvard Hillel, which she said “took it upon themselves to speak for the Jewish community.”

“If we don’t have a group that can say other things, then the outside world, which is so focused on Harvard, might look at Harvard and think ‘Oh, this is what Harvard’s Jewish people think’ — which I couldn’t accept,” Jampel said.

FJU member Jeremy O.S. Ornstein ’24 said that he felt he was “not allowed” to “question our support for the state of Israel and question Zionism” in Hillel, where he attends religious services.

“We have to shake Hillel up and we have to present an alternative,” Ornstein said.

In an emailed statement, Campus Rabbi Getzel Davis wrote, “Harvard Hillel welcomes students of all backgrounds and beliefs, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. At Harvard Hillel, students can engage in any conversations that they want to.”

“Hillel welcomes any and all students looking to learn more about Israel, the current conflict, and its historical context,” Davis added.

Harvard Chabad did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Last week, the group hosted their first formal event with Peter A. Beinart, the editor-at-large of the progressive Jewish magazine Jewish Currents. Jampel said the event, held at Leverett Library Theater, was met with a “hugely positive” response.

“I think people who came felt really like it was starting to provide something that’s been missing, which has been a space for left-wing Jewish conversation on campus,” FJU member Noah B. Kassis’ 25 said.

Ornstein praised Beinart’s “readiness to dive into the hard questions, his repetition of the value of human life on both sides — Palestine and Jewish equality.”

Jampel said she hopes to host more events focused on identifying and discussing progressive themes within Jewish holidays and religious practice.

“Judaism has a really strong intellectual tradition of thinking through and questioning every part of the religious and daily experience of being Jewish,” Jampel added.

Ornstein added the group will host more speakers and conversations on “what it means to be Jewish in diaspora.”

Kassis said FJU was important in order for progressive Jews at Harvard to assert their voice.

“If the Jewish institutions on campus, or more broadly, don’t kind of shift to accommodate where young American Jews are, then we’re going to create our own new institutional spaces,” Kassis said.

—Staff writer Caroline K. Hsu can be reached at Follow her on X @CarolineHsu_.

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