Our Story

The Hillel Foundation at the University of Wisconsin, Inc. (UW Hillel) is the second oldest Hillel Foundation in the world, founded in 1924, immediately after the Hillel at the University of Illinois.

UW Hillel is an independent non-profit organization with an independent board of directors. The Board and its Executive Director are solely responsible for the policies and practices of the UW Hillel. 

UW Hillel reflects over ninety years of committed service to Jewish life at the UW as represented by the varied interests and experiences of the Jewish students, the faculty and staff of the University of Wisconsin and the ideals that make the university, the city of Madison, and State of Wisconsin an important and great place. While we are part of the larger international Hillel system, we are independent, have always been, and will continue to be so. We hold our mission, our independence, and our self-governance to be sacrosanct.

We recognize our unique role with our many Jewish communal partners, including but not limited to, the Jewish Federation of Madison, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and Hillel International.

UW Hillel sets its own policies based on our values, our community, and its traditions. In doing so, we take the history, culture and teachings of our community to heart.  As we do, we also affirm our role and commitment to Jewish life and Judaism, in its totality, and to the idea of life in the Academy of higher learning as guideposts for our work.

Our commitment to our mission and independent governance holds true as we take to heart the inclusive message of our namesake and the deep commitments to intellectual discourse at the university, perhaps most recognized by the Wisconsin Tradition of “Sifting and Winnowing” and the Jewish concept sheilot v tshuvot or “questions and answers.”

Our commitment to Jewish student life is deep and strong. Our concern for students and the development of their identity, intellect, and spirit are held at the highest regard.

Our Mission

The UW Hillel Foundation provides a home for more than 4,000 Jewish students attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 

Hillel is a pluralistic organization supporting all of the Jewish movements as authentic expressions of Jewish Life.  

 

Hillel engages students, cultivates a Jewish community, develops leaders, complements the classroom, and embodies Jewish values.

Hillel is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)3 that partners with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 

Our Program

Last school year we...

Shared nearly 3,000 shabbat dinners

Talked over nearly 680 cups of coffee

Helped over 160 students travel to Israel

Studied Jewish texts with over 150 students

Had 10 students attend Hillel conferences

Hosted 30 internships

Welcomed 1,100 visitors a week

Provided High Holidays for over 250 people

Served 650 Passover meals

Made an Impact

 
 

Our History

The Jewish Student Foundation on the campus of the University of Wisconsin was founded in 1924 as the second Hillel Foundation in the country. Today, it is part of a network of more than three hundred and fifty Foundations in the United States and throughout the world serving Jewish college students. 

Prior to the establishment of the Hillel Foundation, a chapter of the Intercollegiate Menorah Society, organized at Wisconsin in 1911, served the religious, cultural, and social needs of the small number of Jewish students on the campus. Organized by philosophy instructor Horace Kallen, Menorah served as a training for Jewish intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century. 
 

From 1919 to 1922, Semitics professor Louis B. Wolfenson brought a Jewish Student's Association to the UW campus, part of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations effort to help college students maintain their Jewish identity. In 1924, there were 300 Jewish students at the University of Wisconsin. Today that number has increased to 5,000.

For its first thirty-one years (1924-1955) the UW Hillel conducted its activities in rented quarters on the second floor of 508 State Street, currently used as a restaurant space. On April 3, 1955, ground was broken for a Hillel Building. Completed in 1956, the cornerstone for the new building was laid on October 23. The building, located at 611 Langdon Street on the old Kiekhofer estate with its once famous “Kiekhofer Wall,” was built at a cost of $250,000 (including furnishings). 

The architect was Eugene Wasserman, of Sheboygan, with Kaeser and Mc-Leod, of Madison, as consulting architects and engineers, and George Nelson & Sons as the contracting firm. The building was named the Behr Memorial in honor of Louis Behr who was a student at the University from 1924 to 1928. He was captain of Wisconsin's basketball team, president of his chapter of Phi Sigma Delta, and president of Hillel. In his senior year, Louis Behr received the Kenneth Sterling Day Award for “exemplifying the finest principles of character among senior class students.” Louis Behr, who passed away in 1946 at the age of forty, was a prominent insurance executive and philanthropic leader.

In 2008, after serving the Jewish students on campus for more than 50 years the Behr Memorial Building was torn down and The Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life was built. Dedicated in October of 2009, UW Hillel provides students with over 43,000 square feet of space for study, special events, dining, exercise and even includes a rooftop basketball court.

Barbara Hochberg, born in Chicago, was recognized nationally and internationally as a talented business executive and a compassionate and dedicated leader of Jewish and secular causes. In the 1970's she helped publicize the plight of Soviet Jews who were denied the right to emigrate. She served as the first chairwoman of the Chicago Jewish Federation in its 98-year history. Barbara was a strong supporter of Hillel, always understanding the importance of having an active on-campus support system and strong community for Jewish students. She was a passionate advocate for human rights. Barbara was a woman of courage and valor who worked tirelessly as a civic leader. 

Today, Hillel serves 5,000 Jewish students from across the nation and the world. Home to more than 30 Jewish student organizations, Hillel nurtures every expression of Jewish life. Religious, cultural, political, and social activities provide something of interest to all students who come to visit Hillel. 

UW Hillel is honored to carry Barbara Hochberg's name and loving memory in our everyday operations at the Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life. The UW Hillel sets the standard for what Hillel can offer students on campus with our state-of-the-art facility.

Our Torah Scroll

 

UW-Hillel has Memorial Scrolls Trust Torah #1322 which is from Tábor, Czech Republic and was written at the end of the 19th century. 

     

MST #1322 had a long journey from Tábor to Madison, Wisconsin. During World War II, the Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia gathered their Torahs, gold and silver finials, books, and textiles from their devastated synagogues and sent them to the Jewish Museum in Prague. In a brave effort to subvert Nazi annihilation, workers in the Jewish Museum in Prague rescued 1,564 scrolls from destruction in 1942. Tenderly handled, meticulously restored, and painstakingly preserved, these scrolls stand as a remarkable tribute to the Jewish ability to survive, revive and regenerate.

Although many Jewish lives were lost, the continuation of Jewish culture, tradition, and memory lives on through the preservation of the Czech scrolls. Congregation Shalom is fortunate to be one of 1,000 synagogues throughout the world to house a Czech scroll. Their presence encourages us to engage with our own Judaism, recognize and confront hatred in our own society, and continue our story to future generations.

The Czech scrolls are survivors and silent witnesses. They represent not only the lost communities of Bohemia and Moravia, but all those who perished in the Shoah. Since its inception, Memorial Scrolls Trust Torahs have been distributed to communities and organizations around the world. The scrolls are never sold or donated, but allocated on loan from MST to be utilized, honored, and cherished.

To learn more about Memorial Scrolls Trust and to view the location of other Torahs throughout the world, please click here.

University of Wisconsin Hillel - The Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life

611 Langdon St., Madison, WI  53703 (608) 256-8361Info@UWHillel.org © 2020 UW Hillel Foundation