By Ben Tinsley
FORT WORTH — As Jason Croft of Sugar Land was preparing to attend Texas Christian University last year, his father had one major request.
Croft, a pre-med neuroscience major and freshman who turns 19 in April, said his father insisted that if was going to attend the college he also had to join TCU Hillel.
It’s an understandable request, as the ratio of Jewish to non-Jewish students can be a bit daunting. TCU has about 60 Jewish students out of a total enrollment of 10,323. TCU is associated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which is a mainstream Protestant denomination.
“My dad wanted to make sure I kept my Jewish heritage,” Croft explained. “He didn’t want me to feel out of place — as if I were the only Jewish person at TCU.”
TCU Hillel, whose faculty advisor is Film-Television-Digital Media Professor Richard Allen, is a small but ambitious group dedicated to providing fellowship and comfort to Jewish students who attend the university.
The group has a base membership of about 15, but that number can change from event to event, according to TCU Hillel President Rachel Rudberg.
Rudberg said a huge upside of the school is that there are no followers of the divisive Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement — which seeks to delegitimize Israel on college campuses.
But special workshops, or “action labs,” are held locally to help Jewish students in high schools and at other college campuses cope with BDS.
Rudberg recently attended one such workshop at Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth. She said she thankfully had never experienced anything like the aggressively confrontational tactics of BDS followers so vividly described to people who attended the exercise.
Other members of TCU Hillel agree that the college remains blissfully free of such political conflict.
“We don’t see those issues at TCU — nothing anti-Israel,” Allen said. “Members of our group try really hard because they care so much. And they are in awe of other cultures. TCU is a Christian university but it is great to have Jewish people like Rachel, who can be a light among the nations.”
Samantha Kleiman also belongs to Hillel. A 20-year-old junior from Dallas majoring in psychology and major child development, Kleiman said TCU classes include overviews of all religions, which goes a long way toward helping student understanding.
“I have had multiple people come up to me after taking these classes and say ‘Hey! I just learned about this in class and it’s cool. Are you part of this?’ ” Kleiman said. “It’s more of a learning experience they turn into social conversation.”
Croft said his fellow students at TCU are very open about asking questions about Judaism and are always very nice about it.
“It’s very comfortable on campus,” Croft said. “I remember one of the people in the admissions office when I first visited TCU came up to me and my family. We had no clue he was Jewish. We asked what it would be like for a Jewish person at TCU and he came out and told us he was Jewish — with a couple of rabbis in his family. He even told us they were trying to get a Judaism minor at TCU.”
One of the projects Hillel is focusing on is the TCU Annual Holocaust Museum in the campus’ Brown-Lupton University Union (BLUU) Ballroom Monday, April 4, through Wednesday, April 6.
As part of this event, Holocaust survivor Harry Kahn, 88, president of the Fort Worth chapter of B’nai B’rith, will tell his story to those in attendance Tuesday, April 5.
Kahn will focus on Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when paramilitary groups and others rampaged through German and Austrian cities, destroying Jewish shops, buildings and synagogues.
Tens of thousands of Jews were arrested and held in concentration camps.
Kahn was only 11 on Nov. 9, 1938 when he walked home from school in Münstermaifeld, Germany, to see his shul in flames and surrounded by Nazis.
“I was not taken to any of the camps,” Kahn said. “I missed the first camp because I was cleaning up the synagogue they burned down while others were rounded up and carted off.”
Before that night of terror, other Germans treated Kahn well. But, that changed around 1936 when he found himself in several fights going to and from school. His school was ultimately instructed to expel him or face the consequences.
Kahn will make a point of discussing the events leading up to November 1938 during his April 5 presentation.
“I will talk about the Night Of Broken Glass,” he said. “Most people know very little about that era.”
This year’s TCU Annual Holocaust Museum exhibit is much different from previous ones, because the TCU Hillel will be borrowing new exhibit material from the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance.
“We realized it’s been the same exhibit each year, which is why we approached the Dallas Holocaust Museum,” Rudberg said. “I want to make room in the exhibit for new materials.”
Dr. Charlotte Decoster, the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance’s assistant director of education, confirmed the TCU student group has been in contact with her about borrowing materials.
“We are in communication with TCU Hillel on providing them with posters from the educational department,” Dr. Decoster wrote in an email.
From his perspective as advisor, Allen said it made sense to approach the Dallas Holocaust Museum.
“The students are working very hard on this,” he said. “Rachel realized this is something that requires updating, which is exactly what she is trying to do.”
After finding comfort as a member of TCU Hillel, Croft soon found himself being groomed to replace Rudberg as president.
Croft is vice president right now and Rudberg is training him to become president next semester as she assumes a more advisory role.
Rudberg — a 20-year-old junior from Dallas majoring in nursing — said she was very impressed by Croft’s leadership skills.
“He was very active for someone in his freshman year and he had a lot of really good ideas,” she said. “I know he’s going to be very good at this.”