A Hillel Staff’s Perspective

by | Feb 6, 2021 | Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

Students have had a very different academic year. One that they have never experienced before. There has been isolation, lack of extracurricular activities and little to no in-person contact. In a recent McMaster Hillel student executive meeting on zoom, I said “we are in the business of community so we need to think creatively about what it feels like to be part of this community. ” How does one do this in a pandemic, when campus is closed and when we don’t see each other at all? How do we know how each of us are doing? Are we alone? Are we lonely? Are we coping? Do we bring our best selves to a Zoom and then grapple alone with our worries? These are the questions that I struggle with when trying to support a community despite the challenges that exist for us. 

From the beginning, Hillel pulled out all the pandemic stops to connect with students. Shabbat in a box and delivered to you? Yes! Zoom games night? Yes! Mental health and wellness box? Sign up here! We have you covered. These programs and services were created to keep our community together while at our own homes. We are able to connect through a screen and eat dinner, not together, but knowing that there were over 70 students enjoying the same meal in the comfort of their own homes as well. And we connected face to face over Zoom before and after, while enjoying our rugelach, of course!

All of these programs are great, but the individual connections are even more paramount. A text to a student to check in, a happy birthday wish on their special day or an unfortunate condolence call for those who have lost loved ones. For me, it’s putting in the extra effort to make a student feel special and finding ways to do this. Does the student have dietary needs that we can fulfill and can we make this student feel seen in making a special box for them? Did a student forget to sign up for Shabbat but do we have an extra meal for them anyway? Can we put an extra dessert in a bag, just because we know that student had a tough week? Even though we are in Hamilton, can we make an extra effort so our Toronto or out-of-province students also feel a part of our community and send them mailings and deliveries so that they feel part of our programming? Having inclusive programming is a cornerstone of Hillel’s mandate. In a pandemic, even more so. 

I miss seeing the students. I miss hanging out in the Hillel office and chatting over a bagel and cracking jokes over the lineup at the toaster. I miss bumping into students on campus, catching up on their lives, and being part of a place where they come for comfort and support (and food!).    With all the programming and outreach we have done in the past 10 months, I hope that we can continue to maintain our virtual community. That even though we are not in person, our students know we are still here for them. While the medium may have changed, the sentiment certainly has not.

 

 

 

 


Judith Dworkin,
Director, McMaster Hillel

Jews of India

Jews of India

On January 28th, I was proud to host a panel discussion on the history and culture of the Jewish communities of India with 40 guests and about 80 listeners. I was inspired to put the program together by the thoughtful Sephardi, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Bukhari and yes, Indian Jews on social media who advocate for their community’s representation within large Jewish institutions. 

For most of my life, ‘Jewish cultural programming’ has been synonymous with either Ashkenazi or Israeli culture, to the detriment of my understanding of our people’s beautiful diversity. Working at the University of Toronto Multi-Faith Centre, I realized I could use the platform I was responsible for to uplift these lesser-heard Jewish voices. I settled on Indian Jewry, as opposed to Ethiopian or Bukhari or Kai Feng Jews, out of interest in the origin story of their people: a ship fleeing war in Judea wrecks off the coast of Mumbai, where a dozen survivors reconstitute their culture in a strange land, isolated from world Jewry for hundreds of years.

We had four speakers. Dr Shalva Weil, a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Ann Samson, a historian and leader of Toronto’s Indian-Jewish synagogue; Judith Dworkin, an Indian Jewish educator raised in Toronto’s Indian-Jewish community and Director of McMaster Hillel; and Anna Rajagopal, a young Indian Jewish writer and activist from the United States, who is a prominent social media personality for Jews of Colour. 

The program was phenomenal. We had nearly 100 guests, and many questions for our speakers. All of the speakers enjoyed their time and are eager to come back for any future programs. It was equal parts fascinating and touching to hear these four people describe their relationships with ashkenormativity, diaspora, and most importantly, their own culture.

Jacob Kates Rose, Hillel UofT

Hillel Ontario Welcomes University of Toronto’s Anti-Semitism Working Group

Hillel Ontario Welcomes University of Toronto’s Anti-Semitism Working Group

Hillel Ontario welcomes University of Toronto’s recent launch of a new Anti-Semitism Working Group. The Working Group will review programming, activities, processes, and practices in place at the University of Toronto’s three campuses and develop recommendations to support the University’s response to antisemitism.

“The establishment of a working group focused on antisemitism is a much-needed measure for the University of Toronto,” said Rob Nagus, Senior Director, Hillel UofT. “Too often, Jewish students who have faced antisemitism on campus have felt that their serious concerns around anti-Jewish hate were dismissed. Given the positive impact of recent anti-racism initiatives on the campus community, it is incumbent on our institutions to also address the unique challenges inherent to combating antisemitism.”

“Across the nine campuses we serve, Hillel Ontario is committed to working with all university administrations to champion the voices of Jewish students,” said Marc Newburgh, CEO, Hillel Ontario. “We look forward to supporting the work of the University of Toronto by ensuring these voices are heard and acknowledged. Doing so will help the Working Group better understand how contemporary antisemitism manifests on campus.”

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