A Message From Our Chair

by | Feb 22, 2017 | Press Release | 0 comments

To a parent, nothing is more important than the safety and well being of our most precious treasures – our children. When we hear a story about a student union member at McGill University tweeting an endorsement of violence against Zionists, we are understandably angered. When we hear allegations that the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) President himself orchestrated a walk-out during a resolution aimed at enshrining Holocaust education programming on campus, we are understandably outraged. When we hear the occasional whisper about alternative facts being peddled in a lecture hall to an audience of impressionable youth, we are understandably troubled and concerned.  All this to say, the news coming from campuses across our great country of late has been at times, difficult to digest.

As the Chair of the Board of the largest regional Hillel in North America, I fully understand that many in the broader Jewish community are concerned about the current campus climate, and are anxious to understand what is being done to ease tensions around these difficult challenges. My message is simple: our students are not alone. Hillel Ontario is the only organization with over 30 full-time professionals on campus across the province, and we are working day-in and day-out to support Jewish and pro-Israel students, to counter BDS and other anti-Israel activities, to build bridges across campus, and to promote the values shared by Israelis and Canadians. And, we are fortunate to have the support of some great community partners in this work, including the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), as well as other organizations and partners like StandWithUs Canada.

Already this year, many of our Hillel’s – including Western, Queen’s, McMaster and York – hosted Israel Week programming. These public events, aimed at promoting Israeli culture, food, music and contributions to the world, are an interactive, engaging and welcoming way to share the real Israel with the diverse campus community.

Our Hillel’s are also hard at work solidifying relationships with key campus influencers, including student political clubs, interfaith groups, faculty and senior administrators. Our valued partners on University campuses across the province are invaluable allies. In the wake of last November’s RSU walk-out, our team held extensive discussions with Ryerson University President Lachemi and his administration, who worked with us to enshrine Holocaust education programming on their campus. Our partners at the University of Toronto worked with us to defeat multiple BDS initiatives in the last year alone. So too, our allies at Kings College in London are working with us in an attempt to prevent BDS activists from manipulating the Kings College Student Union to adopt an anti-Israel motion.

I’ve spent the last few weeks visiting our campuses, and have been privileged to meet with, and get to know so many wonderfully passionate and committed students. We’ve sat and discussed why they’ve chosen to be active with Hillel. I’ve heard about the many engaging programs that they’re involved with, the many campus partnerships they have with other clubs and interfaith groups, and the many challenges they face. It is clear that many amazing students are driving their Hillel’s on campus. And with the guidance, mentorship, and support that they receive from our staff, and our partners, through all of the challenges they may face, Hillel Ontario ensures that Jewish students continue to enjoy a vibrant and enriching campus experience.

At Hillel, we encourage students of all backgrounds to form deep, personal connections to Jewish life, learning and Israel, through Jewish exploration, leadership, and a sense of belonging. These connections built on campus lay the foundation for our students to continue their Jewish journeys as adults when they return to their communities, meaningfully participating and taking active roles in Jewish life.

 

I hope you will join me in supporting our students.

Micki Signature

Micki Mizrahi, Chair

Hillel Ontario Board of Directors

Weekly D’var: Vayetzei

Weekly D’var: Vayetzei

This week’s parsha is one that is filled near to overflowing with iconic stories.  Covering Jacob’s travels to, life in, and departure from Haran, the home of his uncle (and eventually father-in-law) Laban, Vayetzei recounts the stories of Jacob’s dream of the ladder, his marriages, first to Leah, then to Rachel, the births of twelve of his children, and so much more.  

With all of this, I am struck by a couple of stories that are not explicitly in our text at all, but come to us in the form of Madrash, the traditional interpretations or explanations of our text that have come down from the sages.

The stories that have captured my interest are surrounding two verses that come at the very beginning of our text (Genesis 28:11 and 28:18) and are seeking to explain a seeming inconsistency between these verses. Just as Jacob is lying down to have his famous dream, we are told that “He took from the stones of the place and set it/them at his head and lay down in that place”, the Hebrew text being unclear on the number of stones Jacob had taken.  Verse 18, which picks up immediately after the dream, is by contrast, very clear, saying, “he took the stone that he had set at his head and set it up as a standing-pillar”. 

The first explanation comes from Rashi (11th/12th c. French commentator), who explains that Jacob had taken a number of stones and arranged them around his head for protection, prompting an argument among the stones, with each asking that they have the honour of holding the righteous man’s head.  Rashi goes on to say that at this point, the holy one fused the rocks into one. 

There are a number of others that appear in the great collection of Midrash, Breishit Rabbah, each offering a different number of stones.  One of the stories counts twelve stones to teach Jacob that he would be the father of twelve tribes; another, three stones, teaching that God’s oneness would be made known through Jacob; yet another, two stones, to teach that Jacob’s progeny would be worthy to form the people Israel.

Our tradition offers us all of these understandings of a single moment in the life of Jacob, each of them teaching him a different lesson.  We can find multiple interpretations of most stories from the Torah; that is part of the beauty of Midrash.  But I am struck by the form that these midrashim take, each of them recounting a lesson learned, each examining a single moment.  In this, I am reminded of the beauty of reflection, of a life examined, reminded that, within the hustle and bustle of our lives, and despite it, each moment has so much potential to teach us.

Rabbi Danny A Lutz
Senior Jewish Educator, Guelph Hillel

Weekly D’var: Chayei Sarah

Weekly D’var: Chayei Sarah

The second line of this week’s parsha tells us that Sarah, our matriarch, died in Kiryat Arba in the land of Canaan. The first verse, and the one from which we get the name of the parsha, Chayei Sarah, describes her life; “Sarah’s lifetime came to one hundred and twenty-seven years.” Abraham has just proved his dedication to God; he offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice before God, was commanded to spare him, and received a blessing. Abraham was promised that his descendants would outnumber the stars in heaven and the grains of sand, but his wife Sarah, his partner and his children’s mother, has now died. Abraham mourns Sarah and weeps by her. His experience of deep sadness is another low point in his turbulent story. Despite being offered by the Hittites and Ephron a burial place, he insists on paying them the full amount of silver it is worth and when Abraham dies at a hundred and seventy-five, he joins Sarah in the cave on Ephron’s land.

This parsha always makes me think of the ritual of shiva, the week of mourning following the death of a loved one. Mourners are joined by their community to provide comfort and meet the needs of the family and are present as those closest to the deceased say kaddish. The mourner’s kaddish is a fascinating and beautiful exaltation, a prayer for peace and for God to hear us and keep us, something that can feel jarring and distinct from grief and loss. The value of the Jewish ritual following death is that we gather to remember and reminisce the span of a person’s existence in our lives and their affect on the world around them for good, not simply to lament their passing. We’re told in the parsha that after they are wed, “Isaac loved [Rebekah], and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” 

Jacob Brickman
Hillels Waterloo & Laurier

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