Jews have long recognized that theirs is a people of diverse thought and opinion. In fact, there is an ancient rabbinic teaching that there are 70 faces to the Torah, commonly construed to mean that for each word of the Torah, there are 70 different interpretations.
Inspired by that tradition, students at the University of Pittsburgh have created 70 Faces magazine, a biannual publication under the direction of the Hillel Jewish University Center, showcasing a wide range of essays, fiction, poetry, drawings and photography thematically connected to a different Jewish value each semester.
The magazine launched last spring, featuring a social justice theme, and came out with its second edition last week centered on the theme of community.
Dubbing the magazine 70 Faces is in alignment with its mission, according to Lauren Rosenblatt, a Pitt junior majoring in English nonfiction writing and the editor-in-chief of the new journal.
“It’s perfect for the goal of the magazine, which is to publish different students’ opinions and get a snapshot of Pitt’s voices,” she said.
While the magazine is under the auspices of Hillel JUC, it is open to submissions from all Pitt students, whether or not they are Jewish, said Zachary Schaffer, president of Hillel JUC and business manager of 70 Faces.
“The content of the submissions does not have to be Jewish,” he said. “It just has to relate to that Jewish value.”
Included in the inaugural issue were pieces concerning such varied topics as sexual assault, mental illness, political hip-hop and the Holocaust.
Publishing a student magazine supports the mission of Courtney Strauss, Hillel JUC director of engagement and the supervisor of 70 Faces who is working to integrate students’ secular passions within a Hillel JUC context.
“I was an English writing major and a theater major when I was a student at Pitt,” said Strauss, who graduated in 2012 and began working at Hillel JUC in August 2014. “ I knew I wanted to do something with the arts.”
Shortly after she began her tenure at Hillel JUC, Strauss was introduced to Rosenblatt, who is also the assistant editor of the Pitt News. The two women put their heads together to come up with the idea of creating a magazine.
“We hoped it would be something that all of campus would participate in and read, even though it was inspired by that Jewish flavor,” Strauss said.
Every submission to the magazine is published, Rosenblatt said. The editorial board, which is comprised of five Jewish students and seven non-Jewish students, works with authors to edit their work, if necessary.
“We are happy that non-Jewish students feel comfortable to submit their work,” Strauss said. “We are trying to embrace everyone.”
The magazine has provided a “nice entry into Hillel,” she added. “I work to get students involved who aren’t already involved. My goal is to try to reach a different type of student.”
Submissions are solicited through social media and flyers and by visits of magazine staffers to various clubs and classes on campus, encouraging writers and artists to use 70 Faces as a platform for their work.
While the board of the magazine is committed to publishing a wide range of opinions, it will remain bound by certain standards set by Hillel International, including its pro-Israel stance, according to Schaffer.
“If any content contradicted the standards of Hillel International, that content would be rejected,” said Schaffer, a senior majoring in political science and communication rhetoric.
Still, Hillel JUC offers a “wide tent,” he said, and the magazine has provided a means of outreach to students who previously had no connection to Hillel.
“It’s cool to see Jewish students, and non-Jewish students, who were not engaged with Hillel engage and tackle Jewish values,” Schaffer added. “It’s really powerful.”
Last semester’s magazine ran 50 pages with 500 issues printed and distributed around campus; this semester, the magazine has grown to 60 pages due to an increase in submissions.
The magazine is wholly funded by the community engagement budget of Hillel JUC, although the board of the publication hopes to sell advertising beginning next semester to help defray costs; it also hopes to find community sponsors.
The magazine held a launch party for its second edition on Wednesday, Dec. 2, in the William Pitt Union. The artwork published in 70 Faces was displayed on easels, and several of the authors read their work. Entertainment included two musical performances, Hillel’s a cappella group Hillelujah and vocalist Mikayla Ferchaw.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.