Madison Hillel sends message of inclusiveness

Note: This article was reported on and photos were taken before social distancing became prevalent.

MADISON — The Hillel building in Madison is draped with inclusiveness.

A large rainbow flag is a dominant image as students approach the building, and there are signs that preach inclusiveness.

It’s a response “to terrible things that have happened in the world,” said Madison Hillel Executive Director Greg Steinberger. This includes attacks on churches, mosques and anyone who is different, he said.

Student Kasey Santoro, 20, a University of Wisconsin sophomore, looks over classwork in the lobby of the Madison Hillel building.

One sign in the lobby details seven Jewish values for an “inclusive Jewish community.” These include respect, peace in the home and love your neighbor as yourself. A bold, colorful sign at the building entrance says all sizes, colors, genders, beliefs, religions and people are welcome.

A few years ago, the signage on a “family” bathroom was changed to “all genders” signage, at the request of some students.

“The welcomeness is about being part and parcel of this big beautiful campus,” said Steinberger. “It is about hospitality. It is also about pluralism, which is a central tenant of Hillel.”

There are other symbols here too, like items related to Israel and Madison-themed Hebrew T-shirts for sale, but Steinberger said people do make favorable comments on the obvious message of inclusivity.

“We were refugees. We are people who are and have been othered,” Steinberger said. We can relate, he said, “be it a Chinese student caught in the anxiety of coronavirus or a student who doesn’t look like a ‘normative’ white American.”