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 Mizrahi, Chair
Hillel Ontario Board of Directors