A Message from Rob Nagus, Director of Hillel UofT

by | Nov 26, 2019 | Press Release | 0 comments

Hillel U of T is deeply troubled by a motion put forward for the upcoming Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU) AGM. While the SCSU has formally endorsed the BDS movement since 2013, recent actions indicate the possibility of fortifying that position and further aligning itself with the BDS movement.

This motion is problematic for two reasons.  First, in an attempt to “…reaffirm [the SCSU’s] commitment to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement…”, it personally and publicly attacks the SCSU’s VP External, Chaman Bukhari, for displaying an Israeli flag in his office, where he also displays a Palestinian flag.

In addition to this personal attack, the motion includes the following:

“Be it further resolved that, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union refrain from engaging with organizations or participating in events that further normalizes Israeli apartheid;..”

This amounts to an institutional boycott of almost every Jewish organization, student and otherwise, and would constitute a clear example of systemic antisemitism according to the IHRA definition and alleging guilt by association against a broad swath of the campus community. In addition, this motion goes against a host of values that should be championed by universities, such as freedom of speech, freedom of association and respecting the rights of minority groups on campus.

Hillel U of T condemns this motion in the strongest possible terms and has been in touch with VP External, Chaman Bukhari, to ask how we can best support him and work together to release a joint statement at the AGM. We have also reached out to our contacts in the university administration and sent a letter to President Gertler asking him to address this discriminatory action.

We urge the University to intercede and take action to address this serious, antisemitic motion.

The upcoming AGM will be taking place Wednesday, November 27th, SY110, 5pm-9pm.

Blown Away

Blown Away

A few weeks ago, I joined a group of Hillel board members and lay leaders for a short presentation on Hillel’s Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF). Several students who had participated in the JLF program were on the Zoom call, as well as the Hillel staff who facilitate JLF cohorts on campus.

We were lucky to have a mini JLF experience. JLF was new to me, but as a graduate of the Wexner Heritage Program, I am a massive fan of adult Jewish education. I know firsthand the kind of transformative experience it could be to CHOOSE as an adult to learn about Judaism.

To say that I was blown away is an understatement. I heard directly from students that they had approached this program with some anticipation and trepidation but ultimately walked away feeling more connected to their Judaism and to their community than they ever thought possible. I saw Rabbis approach young people with openness and care; their focus was on making their cohort understand how Judaism was relevant to today’s world, not just their grandparents’ time. I felt the emotion that came across, even over Zoom, that showed me that these young people “got it” and could internalize how Judaism could play a role in their adult lives well beyond the eight-week program.

I was touched to hear that when the students were asked to “pay it forward”, the vast majority of them did, because they wanted others to have the chance to see what they saw, feel what they felt and learn what they learned. As a lay leader, it is so important to see that my work and philanthropic contributions are touching real people and making a difference in real lives.

This small taste was enough to make me want to support this program in the future and I hope others will join me in doing so – we work hard on Jewish identity and we don’t have enough programs that actually move the needle. This one does! 

Elisa Palter

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

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