Former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg spoke fondly of his experiences with Hillel during an address he gave at the organization’s national summit on universities and the Jewish community.
Trachtenberg said during his presidency, he aimed to create ties between communities that otherwise would have had little contact. One of his “fondest memories at GW” was convincing Hillel to host a Ramadan breakfast for practicing students.
“Hillel deserves a lot of credit for making possible at GW what would not have been possible at other university campuses,” Trachtenberg told more than 100 students and professors from across the country who attended the event.
Armed with a red bow tie a wealth of Woody Allen quotes, Trachtenberg’s appearance and speech garnered laughs and applause from the audience. Hillel President Wayne Firestone said the 85-year-old Jewish organization decided to sponsor the conference as a way to discuss how university campuses and the Jewish community have collaborated to promote “the advancement of civil society”.
“By focusing on imagining a more civil society, we took ourselves out of the present sense and into what could be happening,” Firestone said. “We can free ourselves to take a couple of days to imagine society under a new generation of leaders.”
Beginning Monday afternoon, the summit hosted a throng of other distinguished speakers, including Harvard University professor Robert D. Putnam, senior correspondent to The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Judy Woodruff and executive director for Rock the Vote Heather Smith. Some discussions focused on freedom of speech, technology and the media and the public service needed in Darfur.
Stacey Klein, a senior at UCLA and president of her university’s Hillel chapter, attended the conference and said it allowed her to learn about the Jewish community’s role in a university setting.
“(It was) phenomenal,” Klein said. “I think I can implement what I learned here back at my school’s Hillel.”
Trachtenberg, who has spoken at the conference since its first summit two years ago, felt privileged to be a part of this year’s summit.
“It’s a wonderful privilege to be a university president and a wonderful privilege to come here and talk to you about it,” Trachtenberg said.
When asked if he would return to speak at next year’s conference, the former University president said he would love to but, “you can’t go to a dance unless somebody invites you.”