The Future of Jewish Life at Harvard: The Campaign for Harvard Hillel

“…Harvard Hillel opened up doors to me and my Jewish identity I didn’t even know needed to be opened.” —Harvard Hillel Trekstension Participant

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Claudia Davidoff and Joseph Kahan MS ’77, Ph.D. ’81: Harvard College Israel Trek

The Harvard College Israel Trek takes 55 Harvard students of all faiths and backgrounds on a 10-day, peer led exploration of Israel with a high-level, multi-faceted agenda. More than 300 students apply annually to take part in the trip. No program has done more to shape and positively influence the discourse on Israel among undergraduates at Harvard. As leading participants in our Campaign, Claudia Davidoff and her husband, Harvard Hillel Board of Directors member Joseph Kahan MS ’77, PhD. ’81, have joined with the major family foundations that have catalyzed and sustained the Trek. We spoke with Joseph and Claudia about their gift and what inspired it.

Harvard Hillel: Regarding your extraordinary commitment to the Harvard College Israel Trek, what was the inspiration? Is there a story behind this gift?

Claudia: In the 1960s my father Leon Davidoff created the Mexico-Israel Cultural Institute to increase awareness about Israel by providing Mexican intellectuals and celebrities with programming, conferences, and trips to Israel. We are able to follow in his footsteps by supporting the Trek program.

HH: What kind of impact do you hope your commitment will have on current and future generations of students at Harvard Hillel?

Joseph: At this formative time in their lives, students typically think about their place in the world. We feel that exposure to Israel would significantly affect their sense of identity and history. In order for one to understand Israel, we think it necessary to visit Israel. We hope that our contribution helps engender positive attitudes to Israel by both Jewish students and non-Jewish students. By increasing their awareness of Israel’s history and democracy, its successes but also its challenges, they will have informed reactions to anti-Israel sentiment on campus and beyond.

HH: Is there anything else you want us to know about your support for Harvard Hillel and/or your commitment specifically?

CD/JK: We have been involved with Harvard Hillel since coming to Cambridge. Hillel has supported us and we feel it incumbent to support it. Our commitment to the State of Israel has become a part of who we are and supporting Harvard Hillel for student trips to Israel is a sweet spot that we both embrace.

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