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Lights in Action Records

Identifier: I-560

Scope and Content Note

This collection documents the various activities of the college-student run group, Lights in Action (LIA), ranging from its inception in 1991 to 2002, the year after it ceased operating. The bulk of the material consists of various publications and printed matter produced by Lights in Action. The photograph series chronicles many of the activities and events organized by Lights in Action, as well as many of the LIA staff, volunteers, and program attendees. Topics covered include current events, Zionism and Israel, politics, Jewish identity, religious observances, holidays, social events, Jewish ethics, Judaism in secular culture, and community service.


  • undated, 1982, 1991-2002
  • Majority of material found within 1992 - 2001


Language of Materials

The collection is in English, except for a few items in Hebrew.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.

Use Restrictions

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact:

American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011


Historical Note

In 1991, hundreds of Jewish students turned out to protest an anti-Semitic speaker at Columbia University. An article, printed in the Columbia Daily Spectator by Columbia University student Ze'ev Maghen, argued that protesting anti-Semitism was futile and instead of responding to anti-Semites, Jewish students should focus their energy on celebrating their Jewish heritage. Inspired by the article, students from New York area schools organized a massive celebratory bonfire, or kumzitz, in Washington Square Park to celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah. Following the kumzitz, Jewish students from Columbia, Yeshiva University Stern College for Women, and New York University founded a new student group, Lights in Action (LIA), taking the name from the kumzitz's theme of “hundreds of lights going into action.” 1

Lights in Action was dedicated to promoting Jewish identity and Zionist commitment among college-aged Jews. Starting in 1992, LIA created and distributed student-written, bi-annual mailings on Jewish/Zionist identity, developed Sabbath programming (Shabbat), and distributed colorful, well-produced posters, calendars and Shabbat cards that stressed the positive experiences of Jewish culture and worship. Included were the student retellings and commentaries on the book of Genesis, Exodus, and “Doin’ it in Your Dorm Room” Shabbat and holiday observance guides. 2

LIA was a network entirely run by students dedicated to inspiring Jewish pride and unity among college students, through educational literature, projects, and retreats, with an initial goal to reach 50,000 students. Lights in Action had a deep commitment to pluralism, and many students were attracted to LIA because of the diversity of students involved; from deeply religious Jews, non-religious Jews, Hispanic Jews, children of intermarriage, gay, lesbian, and bisexual Jews, artists, students interested in social justice and many more. 3 LIA made it possible for these different groups to come together for a common goal and be allowed to express themselves in a safe environment among like-minded people. In 1994, as its budget expanded, LIA grew and formalized its organizational structure and was able to move its operations from a dorm room to an office, and take on professional staff persons (recent graduates) who coordinated fundraising and student activists. A year later, Lights in Action was incorporated and had established itself in a Manhattan office space, as their new headquarters. LIA also established a student-led Summer Institute in Israel, developed and distributed materials to over 175 campuses across the United States and Canada, developed seminars in conjunction with Hillel and the Aleph Society, and became a delegate member of the World Union of Jewish Students. 4

In 1996, Lights in Action received funding for a two-year independent evaluation of the effectiveness of their activities and programs. The evaluation produced a 1997 report outlining a plan to conduct a national survey of Jewish university students, among other initiatives. The national survey of was conducted by LIA in 1998. Though LIA received positive responses from students about their mailings, activities, and programs, the organization began to experience a decrease in the number of students who attended their programs. LIA mailings were also reaching fewer college campuses. Lights in Actions struggled between being a grassroots movement and wanting to be an established organization. Concurrently, larger Jewish student organizations also began to create programs similar to the programs Lights in Action had established. In 1999, LIA initiated a strategic planning process to plan for the future of their organization. Out of this process came two major proposals to change the organization: a major revamp of their website into a more dynamic, interactive website, to help students gain access to distributed material more easily and quickly; and to hire an experienced professional full-time staff person, to coordinate fundraising, provide continuity, and free up the younger staff to work with students. 5 The initiatives were not able to turn LIA around. In the fall of 2001, many of the Lights in Action's foundation grants expired as the decrease in student interest affected LIA's ability to secure needed grant money and Lights in Action was forced to shut down.


  1. 1Thorpe, Samuel. "Lights Inactive." New Voices: News and Views of Campus Jews, April 17, 2002.
  2. 2Ibid.
  3. 3Ibid.
  4. 4Guide to the Records of the North American Jewish Students Appeal, undated, 1962, 1964-1996; North American Jewish Students Appeal Records; I-338 and I-338A; Constituent Brief Histories; American Jewish Historical Society, Boston, MA and New York, NY.
  5. 5Thorpe, Ibid.


5.5 Linear Feet


Lights in Action (LIA) was a network of students dedicated to inspiring Jewish pride and unity among college students. LIA student activists designed, created, and distributed Jewish/Zionist literature that reached approximately 100,000 students on over 120 campuses. In addition, LIA designed and coordinated national student projects like Shabbat Leumit, a guide to lead students across North America through the rituals during Shabbat. LIA also hosted and sponsored national conferences, summer programs in Israel, leadership training, and seminars on a variety of topics of interest to Jewish students. The records include Lights in Action publications and printed matter, administrative records, photographs and slides, audiovisual material, sound recordings, and born digital material.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

The Lights in Action Records were donated by Beth Packman, a former staff member of Lights in Action, in 2002.

Related Material

Lights in Action Records is one individual collection within the Counter Culture collections located at the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). Other counter culture collections at AJHS include the Arthur Ocean Waskow Papers (P-152), Leonard Fein Papers (P-582), Shira Eve Epstein Papers (P-776), Riv-Ellen Prell Papers (P-795), Ruth Abusch-Magder Papers (P-841), Virginia Levitt Snitow Papers (P-876), Goldie Milgram Papers (P-876), Jack Jacobs Papers (P-1020), Gerald Serotta Papers (P-1023), Jack Nusan Porter Papers (P-1024), Arthur J. Lelyveld Papers (P-1030), Jews for Urban Justice (Washington, D.C.) Records (I-159), Jewish Peace Fellowship Records (I-189), Jewish Student Press Service Records (I-248), Breira Records (I-250), American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism (New York, New York) Records (I-326), North American Jewish Students Appeal Records (I-338), Jewish Labor Committee Records (I-377), New Jewish Agenda Records (I-393), Vermont Chapter of the New Jewish Agenda Records (I-449), Jewish Counter Culture Collection (I-504), Trees and Life for Vietnam Records (I-542), Brit Tzedek v'Shalom/Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace Records (I-587), and portions of the Jewish Student Organizations Collection (I-61).

The Lights in Action website was captured by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine from 1996 to 2002. The snapshots can be viewed here:*/ Please note that the Wayback Machine may not render the website exactly as it appeared on the live web at the time, and that AJHS has no control over how often the site was crawled or how it displays now. Also, please note that from 2003 to 2010, the URL was not used, and that in 2011, the URL was acquired by the Laser Institute of America.


Historical Note originally had the following as a thumbnail: Flier from Press Pack, 1996 (Box 6, Folder 1).

Processing Information

A box list and partial processing was performed by archival intern, Alexandria Bickel. A revised arrangement schema and further processing was performed by Patricia Glowinski in 2014. The arrangement is based on the original order provided by Lights in Action (LIA). The collection was reboxed and refoldered and folder titles for most of the collection are exact or closely based on those given by LIA. There were numerous folders titled "Originals" and "Archives" and these were given more descriptive titles by the archivist to enhance access. Two series were created for materials with preservation and access issues. These series are Series V: Photographs and slides and Series VI: Audiovisual, sound recordings, and born digital material. Photographs that were originally housed in photograph albums were removed from the albums but remain in their original groupings given by LIA. 2.5 linear feet of duplicate material or material containing personal information was removed from the collection.

Guide to the Records of Lights in Action undated, 1982, 1991-2002 (bulk 1992-2001) I-560
Partially processed by Alexandria Bickel. Additional processing by Patricia Glowinski.
© 2014
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation

Revision Statements

  • 2015.: A related material note linking to the Lights in Action website that was archived on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine was added by Patricia Glowinski.
  • 2022 June: TElder: removed hyperlink from Historical Note title; created General Note for hyperlinked document removed.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States