8 Gays of Channukah

by | Jan 30, 2020 | Jewish Life at York, LGBTQ+

York University has been in the media a lot in recent months. Often, what gets left on the cutting room floor is the voice of students, particularly Jewish students.

I think this is what I value most about my role as LGBTQ+ engagement intern for Hillel York- that I get to speak directly for and to students, as a student myself.

In this position, I have had the pleasure of meeting dozens of queer Jews from not only York, but all nine Hillel Ontario campuses. Some are openly queer, many are not. Many have never been to a Hillel before. Regardless, I welcome the opportunity to speak to them, find out what they need to feel welcome in a Jewish space, and relay the information back. We have hosted several successful events on campus before, from games (“gay-mes”) night to screenings of LGBTQ+ Jewish films like “Call Me By Your Name.”

This process of student-led discovery and practicing “radical welcoming” is how we came up with our blockbuster December event, which drew unprecedented crowds and reached new audiences. In consultation with queer Jewish students in October, it was clear that they wanted a large party in the historic Toronto “Village” neighborhood.

So, we came up with “The 8 Gays of Channukah.”

I knew early on that I wanted to involve Hillel Ryerson and Hillel UofT in this project, because I believe that the boundaries of the Jewish community go further than the walls of one Hillel space or another. At a time of increased anxiety about antisemitism, I felt that we needed to display a united front. We dubbed ourselves “Rainbow Jews,” a tri-campus initiative to provide programming for queer Jewish students. This was a bold and necessary position for Hillel to take: queer Jews are welcome here.

Hillel was supportive from the very beginning. They helped pay our talent fairly, made changes to the poster to ensure it credited the performers to our satisfaction, and when I was worried about security at the event, reassured me they were going to do whatever it takes to keep us safe. Hillel was with us one hundred percent, listening and learning as we went.

The event, billed as a “queer Jewish variety show,” showcased eight performers who identify as Jewish and queer. From drag queens to stand up comedy to live singing (in two languages!), we really had it all. There was standing room only, and smiles from ear to ear. Performers included Twinkie LaRue, Alissa Brink, Shardona, Jordan Pines, Yan Shvartsman, Amitai Zand and yours truly in drag as Gila Münster, Richmond Hill’s premier Israeli drag star (self-proclaimed).

I could not have asked for a better way to spend the first night of Channukah than with a bar full of fellow queer Jewish students and allies in the Village. Even though my feet hurt in the tight heels I was wearing (3-inch platforms!), I knew I would remember the night forever.

Written by: Gil Segev

Purim!

Purim!

Hillels York, UofT and Ryerson

This past week, Hillels York, UofT and Ryerson, in partnership with JLIC, celebrated Purim together. As we all know, this year has been an especially unique year. Although there was no way to have a regular in-person Megilah reading and Purim party, Hillel got creative by organizing a drive-in Megilah reading! People dressed up, sat in their cars, and listened to Ben Shore (a fellow student at UofT) read the Megilah. Taking advantage of being in our cars, we honked at the sound of Haman’s name. At the end, everyone had the chance to get a shawarma laffa and later join a virtual game night over zoom. This Purim was definitely different, but one we won’t soon forget. Thank you to everyone who was able to make this Purim so special!

  • Hadar Wercberger, Hillel Ryerson

 

Queen’s Hillel

On Purim, Jews (of legal drinking age) are encouraged by the Talmud to drink until they do not know the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai”. With this in mind, one of the ways through which Queen’s Hillel celebrated Purim was to follow this custom. Following the lead of Dammara Kovnats Hall, the founder of Jewish Cocktails, students joined together over Zoom to create three delicious Purim-themed cocktails and mocktails. The drinks were based on ingredients that have traditionally been available during the time of Purim and were inspired by different aspects of the holiday. The drinks we made included the Shushan Sipper, the Hamentaschen Martini, and Masks and Mystery; a whisky and ginger beer-based drink that was my personal favourite.

A few days before, we delivered a basic mixology kit complete with mason jars, cocktail umbrellas, Hamentaschen, and an ingredient list to students. For me, part of what made the event so much fun was everyone laughing together over different substitutions that people were making if they did not have a specific ingredient or a tool to use when making their drinks. Through this event, we were able to successfully replicate the party atmosphere that Purim typically has. 

In a year where we’ve been forced to hold all of our events online, it can be difficult to plan an event online while ensuring that engagement is still high. With our Masks and Mixology event, we had no trouble at all! Purim is a holiday that is meant to be celebrated with others through giving out Mishloach Manot (gift baskets), dressing up, and getting together to listen to the reading of the Megilah. While Purim celebrations over the world certainly looked different this year, being able to celebrate over zoom through our mixology event allowed myself and many others to feel as though it was a regular celebration. Having had the opportunity to celebrate Purim and other holidays online, it’s provided a sense of normalcy in a year that has been anything but normal and has allowed students to get a sense of the Queen’s Hillel experience.

Dammara provided us with the opportunity to perfect our mixology skills while getting a chance to explore Judaism and the themes of Purim together. While it may not have been a traditional celebration of Purim, I know that I will be bringing these cocktail recipes with me to celebrate Purim next year.

  • Belinda Cantor, Queen’s Hillel

 

McMaster Hillel

It has become challenging to create engaging, exciting and meaningful virtual events during the lockdown. “Free Esther”, a Purim-themed escape room that was envisioned and constructed by the McMaster Hillel executive team, challenged participants to enter a maze of puzzles as Mordechai tries to free Esther, the female protagonist of the Purim story. Participants worked together and got to know each other as they worked to solve the puzzles that would lead to Esther.

This event was a huge success! We brought together Judaism, tradition and people in a fun and engaging activity. One participant mentioned that this had been “the best event I’ve been to all year!” (including all virtual experiences by any organization). 

Incredibly, community engagement is thriving at events like this, despite the pandemic. We hope that events like these will compel more people to get involved with Hillel and their community in the future. With that in mind, McMaster Hillel will hopefully return next year with more fun Purim-related adventures, perhaps an in-person escape room. We wish everyone a Chag Purim Sameach!

  • Andy Roth, McMaster Hillel

 

Guelph Hillel

It’s been tough to get into the Purim spirit this year while separated from friends and family, but Guelph Hillel came together to create a virtual Purim Murder Mystery event that brought the community together in a new and exciting way. The event on Tuesday, March 2nd, was preceded by a Purim-themed Shabbox delivery on Friday — Shabbat dinner was delivered to students across Guelph, along with extra goodies for the holiday, and Mishloach Manot (gift baskets) were sent out to students residing in Toronto. The interactive event on Tuesday event gave students the chance to interview characters from the Purim story — King Achashverosh, Queen Esther, Mordechai, Haman, Zeresh, and Shashgaz — to find out who killed Vashti in an exciting murder mystery plot! These characters were portrayed by student actors, who all worked incredibly hard to bring them life, and it was thoroughly entertaining chatting with each of them. Students participating were put into teams and got to interview each character twice before coming to a team verdict and voting on who they suspected the murderer was.

It was exciting to be teamed up with new people and work together to solve the puzzle, and a great opportunity to make new friends! Even after the event was officially over, most of the participants didn’t want to leave, and many stayed online to chat and hang out with new friends and old. It was wonderful to see people so engaged with this event and immediately forming connections with other members of the Guelph Hillel community. Though we all hope to be able to celebrate Purim in-person next year, this kind of innovative programming from Guelph Hillel made the holiday special despite challenging circumstances.

  • Alex Thomson, Guelph Hillel

The Guelph Hillel Murder Mystery was amazing!! I constantly found myself on the edge of my seat! It was incredibly interactive, and it rid me of my Zoom fatigue. Every student was invested in the program and in their given characters, which made the competitive atmosphere enjoyable and motivated me to win. It was so nice to meet and chat with new people and old friends, and make new connections on our new virtual world. This was by far the best event I have attended throughout the pandemic, and I am looking forward to a Passover murder mystery, perhaps who killed Pharaoh…

  • Debby Klachook, Guelph Hillel

 

Holocaust Education Week at Hillel

Holocaust Education Week at Hillel

Guelph Hillel

Guelph Hillel recently hosted Ted Comet and DOROT as part of our Holocaust Education Week (HEW). Ted’s presentation, unlike any I’ve ever seen before, centred around his wife Shoshana’s story,  and how she was able to cope with the pain and trauma of the Holocaust through artistic weaving.

There were so many elements of this event that impacted me. With each passing year, fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remain to deliver first-hand accounts of their experiences. After his wife’s passing, Ted committed to continuing to tell Shoshana’s story by showing her artistic creations. The abstract shapes and colours woven into tapestries are threads strung together by Shoshana, labouring away to express how she views the world as a result of her trauma. It was a captivating display. This program provided the important opportunity for us to examine not only the atrocities of the Holocaust, but also one woman’s resilience and strength – and her healing process through the arts.

As the coordinator for Holocaust Education Week this year at the University of Guelph, my goal was to provide multiple resources for students to learn and engage with Holocaust survivors and their stories in different ways.

In particular, one of Shoshana’s tapestries created a most powerful discussion. Ted explained that the representation of God in her art was challenging for Shoshana to conceptualize. He explained that she considered where to place God, and how to envision God. As an artist myself, this stuck with me. Everything Shoshana created was intentional and deeply personal. My art practice is also made up of abstract paintings that convey traumatic or painful experiences from my life. And, though separated by many years from Shoshana’s experiences, one of my paintings also depicts a conversation with God. I understand Shoshana’s inability to place God; her inability to consider how to portray such a concept through art. I found myself overwhelmed with emotion when Ted described her physical reaction when stepping back from her work; something created from her subconscious mind loaded with so much pain.

Elena’s painting

It was an incredibly moving experience. And, an entirely unique and innovative way to speak about the horrors of the Holocaust. We are so thankful for Ted for joining us, and for keeping the memory of his beloved wife Shoshana alive through this amazing experience.

In all, our Holocaust Education Week programming reached over 200 students, faculty and univeristy staff – Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Of the program, Kathryn Hofer, University of Guelph’s Director of Student Experience said it best when she noted: “the entire week of Holocaust Education Week programming is one of the best ‘pivots’ I have seen this academic year.”

Elena Levy, Guelph Hillel


Hillel Ryerson

My name is Veronica (Roni) Lazebnik and I’m a Hillel Student Leader in my second year of study at Ryerson University. I’ve been involved with Hillel since I was in my first year, and have loved being a part of events centering around leadership. Hillel Ryerson has given me a safe space to connect and meet other Jewish like-minded students on campus, and I will forever be grateful for that.  Perhaps one of my favourite aspects of being active in Hillel’s leadership system has been organizing informative talks such as this. It facilitates ongoing discussion in a secure and inclusive atmosphere on difficult matters. I was thrilled to be a part of the planning of the events for Holocaust Education Week (HEW) 2021 at Hillel Ryerson.

This year, though virtually, Hillel Ryerson partnered with Hillel UofT and Hillel York, as well as our other sponsors, for three events dedicated to commemorating the Holocaust and the six million Jews who lost their lives during the war.

The first event, called Love Thy Neighbor: Holocaust Art in the Druze Community is where students sat in on a fireside chat and moderated Q&A with Israeli Druze artist Bothaina Halabi, whose work focuses on using art as a medium for education around the Holocaust. Read more about this program in the Ryersonian paper. The second event, called Bearing Witness: An Evening with Holocaust Survivor Hedy Bohm is where students got the chance to listen to Holocaust survivor Hedy Bohm, who has a powerful message for future generations. Finally, HEW ended with the event entitled Never Forgotten: The Enduring Spirit of Holocaust Victims’ Poetry, Art, and Music; a conversation about the various forms of art produced during the Holocaust, and the lessons we can draw from them for our time, hosted by Hillel’s very own Rabbi Ariella Rosen. On top of these three events, we shared content on social media, such as movies and educational pieces of writing to document information on other aspects of the Holocaust. Holocaust education week is crucial in many aspects as it allows us to understand the impact of history on our society, the impact of history on human beings and the impact individuals can have on history.

Ryerson, to my knowledge, has and will always be a diverse university, celebrating people from all over the world for who they truly are. This year Hillel Ryerson decided to partner with one of our sponsors; The RSU or the Ryerson Student Union. The RSU also has six Equity Service Centres: The Centre for Women & Trans People, The Good Food Centre, Racialized Students’ Collective, RyeACCESS, RyePRIDE, and the Trans Collective. These centers serve as a platform for students of different communities to work together and organize initiatives, activities, and initiatives for social justice and equality. Through my research, I was able to find a list of films and resources, that related to the Holocaust, while touching on each of the equity centers at Ryerson, and the link to those films and resources were available through our social media page. During these annual events, we attempt to advertise these events to all on campus, because like most of us, we feel that not only Jews should remember and commemorate the atrocities of the Holocaust, but as a community/campus, it is important to “reflect and remember, not just for Jews, but for everyone who needs to learn from the world’s injustices in order not to repeat them”.

Holocaust Education Week means many things to many people. To me, being born into a Jewish household, as well as being a granddaughter of two Holocaust survivors and two close relatives that had passed, I feel closely connected to this. These events are personal for all of us. I feel honored to be a part of Hillel Ontario, as I can commemorate and honor the atrocities of 6 million Jews while learning from our history, educating the public, and “never forgetting” what had happened before us.

Veronica (Roni) Lazebnik, Hillel Ryerson


Hillel York

Holocaust Education Week may have ended but the importance of the programs will remain. When I was approached by Lior, the Director of Hillel York, to run one of the programs, I immediately jumped at the idea. This led to a month of Zoom planning, WhatsApp messages, and various Instagram tagging to put together a comprehensive and engaging Holocaust Education Week.

One of the important aspects of this week was to educate others about the events of the Holocaust. Our first program was Non-Jewish Women Leaders in the Holocaust. In this event, we analyzed the profiles of various women who saved the lives of Jewish children during the Holocaust and taught the rest of the group about their lives. We also learned about the bravery of youth during the Holocaust and what it takes to be a leader. By having the participants engage with the material, I hope it will leave an impact on them and they will remember this for years to come.

One of the major aspects of Holocaust Education Week is trading stories and experiences through oral learning and word-of-mouth. As Holocaust survivors begin to leave us, it is more important now than ever that we make sure “Never Again” doesn’t become a cliché, but a reality.

I wish to thank Holocaust survivor Hedy Bohm who told her story and answered our questions and the producer of the movie ‘The Accountant of Auschwitz.” Lior also led the Cooking a Memory event, inspired by his grandmother. As he explained, it wasn’t about the food but it was about the memory of his grandmother.

An important quality we must have, or build – as incidents of antisemitism rise – is perseverance. This is why I am grateful to have Hillel across campuses in Canada to give us a community where we feel safe and comfortable. As we learned throughout the week, it is important to have allies alongside you in your fight.

I wish to thank all of our participants for taking the time out of their day to learn about the Holocaust. I hope that students learned something valuable during the week and continue to engage with Hillel during their time at York.

Hanna Feldbloom, Hillel York


Western Hillel

Growing up, Holocaust Education was very much a given; community-run speaker events throughout the year, memorial services in school, and regularly included in my school curriculum. Even as a kid, I knew that Holocaust education was important, but I don’t think I fully grasped why until I started Grade 7 at a new school in a new community. For the first time, I was surrounded by people and in a school that had no interest in Holocaust education.

When I was younger, Holocaust Education was important to me because it was how we, as a community, honour the victims and survivors and commit to calling out hatred and discrimination. But when it was time for Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) my first year at that school, I felt uncomfortable that they didn’t even commemorate ⎯ let alone acknoweldge⎯the day; it felt disrespectful.

The reasons that Holocaust Education Week (HEW) at Western Hillel are important to me are endless. It starts with what I knew as a child⎯having designated time to honour Holocaust victims and survivors and commit to being a more respectful community. But it’s also a week for me that signifies the culture of our community. HEW is a time for learning and listening⎯something we don’t actually do very often. It’s a time when our society engages with a chapter of its history when it acted deplorably by trying to understand the suffering that was caused.

As VP Advocacy, I am very proud of my Hillel and the amazing team of student leaders on my Holocaust Awareness Committee that put together an impactful series of events. We started with a virtual tour of Płaszów concentration camp led by Adam Schorin, whose grandfather was a survivor of the camp. Next, students experienced a virtual tour of a Jewish museum in Russia. We also invited Professor Eli Nathans to share his perspectives on Holocaust history and to reflect on how we talk about Holocaust history in society. Finally, students from all backgrounds had the opportunity to hear the survivor testimony of Judy Cohen as she shared her unique presentation on the experiences of women and gender issues during the Holocaust.

Chava Bychutsky, Western Hillel

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