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Illini Hillel Centennial Blog #3: Exploring Early Hillel Activities in the Daily Illini Archives

By Ezra Shelato

A clipping from The Daily Illini contains the first article

which writes about the Hillel Foundation by name from

22 September 1923.

Last week’s Illini Hillel Centennial Blog focused on Rabbi Frankel’s accomplishments at Illini Hillel until his tragic passing in 1927. This week, we learn about how the foundation continued to serve students after his time by exploring the reporting of Hillel activities in the Daily Illini newspaper archives.

One of the activities carried out by the Women’s League highlights Hillel’s founding commitment to serve all Jewish students. The league sponsored classes on writing in Braille, where students make books for “the Jewish blind in the state institutions at Jacksonville'' (Daily Illini 17 September 1933)

A Daily Illini reporter in 1933 noted Hillel’s library. The library “place[d] at the disposal of the student body the best volumes in modern literature” (Daily Illini 17 September 1933). Works of both fiction and nonfiction were available for students to borrow without charge. 90 years later, we at Illini Hillel are very proud of our library.

Perhaps the most exciting events were the Open Forum lectures. Every month the Hillel Foundation brought in internationally respected speakers to discuss world affairs, and the student body was able to attend these lectures for free. A Daily Illini reporter took great joy in the audience participation encouraged in these discussions, saying “If a person goes to a Hillel lecture it is entirely his own fault if he doesn’t come away with a better understanding than he had before” (Daily Illini 6 October 1932). Open Forums were a great asset to the wider campus and community, not just to Jewish students.

The final guest of the Spring 1931 semester was Captain Bruce Bairnsather, a cartoonist and war humorist during World War I. He reportedly illustrated his talk with slides of his cartoons and with chalk sketches which he drew during the lecture. Capt. Bairnsfather unfolded the life history of his character “Old Bill” as well as explaining the origin of several of his other cartoons (Daily Illini 13 May 1931).

Lectures presented during Fall semester of 1931 include “What Progressives Are Fighting For” by Senator Robert LaFollete; “How Colleges Prolong Infancy” by Horace Kallen, and “Why We Laugh Like Human Beings” by psychologist Max Eastman among other topics and guests. The season was closed by a debate between Prof. M. J. Adler of the department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago and Dr. Edward Schoolman, a professional psychologist, on the topic “Can Man Live by Science Alone?” (Daily Illini 26 September 1931).

Are you an alum of Illini Hillel? Tell us about your favorite event or activity from your time here, we’d love to hear from you and share your story in a future blog post!

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