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

Something New

Something New

The fall post-holiday period is always a good time for launching new things. To the extent we’re not completely exhausted, our five-day work weeks are back (instead of five days of work crammed into three-day weeks), and we’re able to get into something of a rhythm and build momentum in moving toward specific goals.

Adding to the sense of newness and adventure, the third post-holidays Torah portion of Lekh Lekha, which was read this past Shabbat, begins with Abraham receiving divine instructions to leave his home and begin a journey to a new land.  Commentators highlight the uncertainty inherent in the command’s wording: instead of being directed to a specific place, Abraham, at least initially, is told to go “to the land that I will show you,” a vague and undisclosed destination. While he is promised blessings galore for his obedience, setting out requires an element of faith and quite a bit of trust as he leaves his home land and father’s house for somewhere new.

While it’s certainly several orders of magnitude smaller than the journey Abraham undertook, Hillel Ontario is trying something new this week: we’re introducing a new section to our regular newsletters and will be including a d’var Torah to showcase our students’ and staff’s skills and present our readers with a bit of Jewish learning. We hope you’ll find these commentaries inspiring and meaningful and that they’ll provide a glimpse of the Hillel Ontario community that spans our nine campuses.

A Message from Hillel Ontario’s Student Presidents

A Message from Hillel Ontario’s Student Presidents

Dear students, parents, supporters, and other members of the Ontario Jewish community,

We are writing to you as the Hillel presidents representing nine universities across Ontario. 

We are often asked what it’s like to be a Jewish student on campus. And, in previous years, we would have taken a more upbeat approach to answering that question. The truth is that things have changed over the past 5 months.

Prior to this spring’s war in Israel, we had never experienced the level of vitriol and backlash that we did recently. We were caught off guard. Many Jewish students lost friendships and severed connections that had been created over many years. Our mental health was stretched to the limit; we have felt burnt out, isolated and anxious.  Even now, with autumn upon us, we are still feeling the exhausting effects of a summer spent advocating for the well-being of our fellow Jewish students. 

Walking back onto campus this week, it was difficult to see some students obviously (and understandably) anxious – both because of the pandemic, and because of the antisemitism Jewish students have experienced over the past several months. At the same time, we also feel more empowered than ever to proclaim pride in our Jewish identity, bolstered by the tremendous support we have felt from across the community.  

Whether you are a first year student, a parent, a sibling, an alum, or simply a member of the community concerned about what seems like an endless barrage of attacks aimed at Jewish students on campus, we want to assure you that as Hillel presidents, we are deeply committed to our roles and responsibilities. We hear your concerns. And, we are proud to serve the current and future Jewish students we support.  

We are working to build relationships with student governments, clubs, interfaith groups, faculty, and administrators on each of our campuses. We continue to empower our peers to learn, to educate, and to advocate for the issues close to our hearts. And, we continue to provide a safe and welcoming community for Jewish students, both on and off campus. 

We also seek to increase resources and staff available to our students so that no one feels unsupported or ill-prepared. We want Jewish students to feel like they can be their entire selves without having to hide a Magen David or avoid conversations about Judaism, Zionism or Israel. 

As we move into a new Jewish year and a new school year, we wish we could say with more certainty exactly what is to come in the next few months. However, it would be naive to do so. Instead, we would like to take this opportunity to commit to you that we will continue to have challenging, but necessary, dialogue with allies across campus. We will continue to support our peers when they feel uncomfortable. And, we will continue to ask for help when we need it. 

Time and time again, our collective history has proven that in a proud, empowered, and united community there is strength, and that from one another we can draw resilience. 

L’shana Haba on quieter, more inclusive campuses. 

Ariel Oren, Guelph Hillel
Evan Kanter, Hillel Student Leader Representative, Hillel UofT
Nathaniel Katz, Queen’s Hillel
Shira Miller, Hillel Laurier
Danielle Lebowitz, Hillel Waterloo
Hannah Silverman, McMaster Hillel
Jordan Goldenberg, Hillel Ryerson
Isabel Borisov, Western Hillel
Nicole Bodenstein, York Hillel

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