History of Hillel

Paging Through Hillel History

Founded in 1923 and adopted by B'nai B'rith in 1924, Hillel has grown into the world’s largest Jewish campus organization. The documents and timeline below illustrate ninety years of Hillel’s growth and evolution.

Hillel Timeline

  • 1920's

    The first Hillel opens at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

    1920s.Hillel began with humble means, a noble mission and a breathtaking vision: to convey Jewish civilization to a new generation. Upon graduating from rabbinical school in 1923, Rabbi Benjamin Frankel accepted a part-time pulpit with the Champaign congregation, under the condition that he could continue to work with college students. Fundraising efforts began to turn Frankel’s part-time program into a full-time organization.

    Norman De Nosaquo, a Jewish student at the University of Wisconsin, writes a letter to the editor praising the creation of Hillel at the University of Illinois and arguing for the creation of a similar group at the University of Wisconsin. A few months later, Hillel at the University of Wisconsin, Madison was born.

    "[T]he charge is leveled that… university training makes of the Jewish student a one-sided intellectualist or materialist. If Jewish boys and girls are to be kept out of this danger, they must be given the opportunity to cultivate those aspects of their life which are now neglected, which the school by its very nature cannot, and for which the social environment does not give adequate facilities." 

    B'nai B'rith President Adolf Kraus notes, "I believe that foundations such as those now existing at the University of Illinois and at the University of Wisconsin should be extended into all universities and schools for higher education, in which suitable provision is not made for Jewish students, to encourage the cultivation of their Judaism."
  • 1930's


    "The Jewish Student in America" (1937) (PDF file) by Dr. Lee Levinger is released, featuring statistics and analysis of the 1935 study of Jewish student enrollments in 1,400 institutions of higher learning in the United States.

    With 12 full-fledged Foundations in operation, Hillel announces a major program to create "Hillel Extension Units" on 18 campuses with smaller Jewish populations. National Jewish Monthly, November 1939 (PDF file)
  • 1940's

    1940sIn "The B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundations – Retrospect and Prospect," Ohio State University Hillel Director Harry Kaplan discusses Hillel’s role in the post-war era including re-integrating veterans and combating campus anti-Semitism. 1944 Jewish Forum Article (PDF file)

    Hillel Brochure, 1945 (PDF file) -  Packed with photos, this 1945 brochure assesses Hillel's accomplishments and future. It notes that Hillel "operates on the principle that the patterns of Jewish life are important in the composite of western civilization, and that the university is enriched when it supplements the resources of the campus with the best in the Jewish tradition."

    Pictured: Hillel holds third summer institute conference for students and professionals.
  • 1950's

    1950s.Pictured: George Washington University Hillel students perform "Purim Goes to College" on WTTG television in 1952.


    National Jewish Monthly (1959) - This 1959 excerpt from the National Jewish Monthly follows University of Pennsylvania student Joan Kaplan as she participates in Hillel activities.

  • 1960's

    In the 1960s.1960s, Hillel directors, working alone or with one staff member, were deluged by waves of Baby Boomers. Campuses that once hosted small Jewish populations became viable Jewish communities in need of Hillel Foundations.

    Pictured: In December 1963, while participating in the annual Directors Meeting, Hillel professionals pay tribute to President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery.

  • 1970's

    1970s.Pictured: Students study a portion of the Talmud following Shabbat services in the early 1970s.

    In a reprint from the June 1973 National Jewish Monthly, Hillel pioneer Abram Sachar discusses the early history of the organization, a Hillel director discusses the professional’s role, a former student describes his engagement by a Hillel director, and Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Alfred Jospe assesses contemporary students. The National Jewish Monthly (1973) (PDF file)

    The Test of Time (PDF file) - Hillel marks its 50th anniversary with this compendium of essays from prominent Hillel professionals and academics on a wide range of topics relating to Hillel’s past, present and future. Writers include Abram Sachar, Marvin Fox and Philip. M. Klutznick.
  • 1980's

    1988 initiative to free Soviet Jewry.Pictured: As part of a 1988 initiative to free Soviet Jewry, newly appointed Hillel International Director Richard M. Joel (left) and Associate International Director Rabbi William Rudolph (center) facilitate a call between former refuseniks and their families in the Soviet Union.

    Admission barriers to Jews dropped in the postwar decades, and the sheer scope of the challenge to serve Jews on campus grew beyond the capacity of B'nai B’rith. It has been estimated that 80 percent of all Jewish college students are located at 109 universities with Jewish student populations greater than 1,000, and that hundreds more campuses attract smaller Jewish student bodies. Even at its apogee of strength, B'nai B’rith could not reach all these students, and in the 1980s, the parent organization was forced to cut its financial allocations to Hillel by 50 percent.

    B’nai B’rith hires Richard M. Joel, a 37-year-old attorney and Yeshiva University dean, to revitalize Hillel.
  • 1990's

    1990s.During the 1990s, Hillel splits from B'nai B’rith, renaming itself Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and rebounds with unprecedented vigor. By the late 1990s, Hillel encompasses 120 foundations and affiliates at an additional 400 campuses.

    In 1994, renowned Jewish leader Edgar M. Bronfman (pictured), chairman of the board of the Seagram Corporation and chair of the World Jewish Congress, becomes chair of the Hillel International Board of Governors.

    Under the energetic leadership of Richard Joel, Hillel wins support from major Jewish family foundations and local federations of Jewish philanthropy, both to build impressive new facilities and to underwrite new ventures. Its "Campaign for a Jewish Renaissance" raised $37.5 million in 1998 alone.

    Birthright Israel sends the first group of students to Israel on a free 10-day trip to strengthen their Jewish identity and connection to the state of Israel.
  • 2000's

    University of Michigan Hillel organizes a campus-wide vigil following the attacks of September 11, 2001.2002.

    Thousands of Hillel students pledge their solidarity with Israel on April 15, 2002 in Washington D.C., at the largest rally of its kind in the Capital’s history.


    University of North Carolina Hillel students protest social injustices in Darfur, Sudan.

    Since September 2004, Hillel drives have added over 4,600 new donors to the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Registry. 2005.

    Hillel students at the Claremont Colleges learn to make, braid, and bake challah bread, giving rise to the Challah for Hunger program.

    Participating in Hillel’s Alternative Spring Break, students help rebuild in neighborhoods devastated by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and further damaged by the 2008 hurricane season.


    Gallaudet Hillel Director Paula Tucker (left) and student Carrie St. Cyr present Vice President Joe Biden with a Hillel t-shirt at a Rosh Hashanah reception hosted at his residence in Washington, D.C.

    University of Maryland Hillel’s acappella group, Kol Sasson, performs at the annual White House Chanukah party.


    Nearly 200 students from eight Hillel Centers across Israel assist the Carmel region in its recovery from the summer’s devastating wildfires.


    Craigslist founder and philanthropist Craig Newmark includes Hillel’s Ask Big Questions initiative on his list of “16 People and Organizations Changing the World in 2012.”

    Former Congressman and Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents Eric D. Fingerhut named the new President and CEO of Hillel International.

    The Ezra Fellowship and Base Hillel programs are launched. Hillel Germany opens in Berlin.

    Mimi Kravetz, a top HR executive from Google, is named the first ever Chief Talent Officer. Hillel launches a partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation to promoted disability inclusion on campuses.

    Actor and 2015 Genesis Prize winner Michael Douglas and head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Nathan Sharanksy, visit three college campuses on a Hillel-sponsored speaking tour to talk about Judaism, Israel and modern anti-Semitism. The Hillel Talent Grants and Springboard Fellowship are established, and HillelU is launched. Hillel Warsaw, the first-ever Hillel in Poland, opens on the 73rd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

    Hillel International merges with the David Project. The Global Leadership Society is launched to celebrate and connect supporters of the Hillel movement.

    With input from the Hillel International Student Cabinet, Hillel launches MitzVote, a new initiative to inspire 100,000 students to vote in the 2018 midterm elections. The first cohort of Springboard Fellows is graduated. 


    Hillel International commences a nationwide search for a new CEO and president, after former President and CEO Eric D. Fingerhut announced that he would become president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. 

    Andrea and Glenn Sonnenberg, with assistance from the Jewish Community Foundation, launches the Bradley Sonnenberg Well Initiative at the University of Southern California Hillel in August, with the goal of helping students manage mental health issues and stress. 


    Hillel International names Adam Lehman as its president and CEO. Lehman, a successful executive and entrepreneur, previously served as chief operating officer and interim president and CEO of Hillel International.

    Hillel International launches Hillel@Home to provide high-quality virtual learning and community experiences to Jewish students amid the coronavirus. Hillels around the world also begin adapting their offerings for students in isolation, using online platforms to organize Jewish programs and providing to-go meals for students.