A Note from Marc Newburgh

by | Sep 16, 2018 | Press Release | 0 comments

Summer is winding down, and more than 400,000 Jewish students are about to return to University and College campuses across North America.

Many students will be stepping into an unfamiliar environment as they begin this new chapter in their lives. On their own for the first-time making decisions that will impact their future, they will be challenged by others to ask questions, to explore and learn. They will grow and mature as individuals and will make new friends that will last a lifetime.

Hillel staff will be there too.

Hillel is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world and Hillel Ontario is the largest regional Hillel in the global Hillel movement. We are a people to people relationship-based organization that serves and supports more than 13,000 Jewish students at 9 Universities across the province.

Our talented, passionate professionals will be there to guide and support students as they travel this journey on campus. They will help students explore their Jewish identity, understand what it means to be part of and contribute to a Jewish community, to be part of a broader campus community, and to help students take advantage of some of the wonderful opportunities that are available, such as a student leadership experience or a Birthright Israel trip. Hillel professionals will work closely with students to ensure they have a deeper understanding of Israel, its people and its complexities, feel motivated to share their experiences with their peers and are empowered to advocate for Israel on university campuses, especially on those with a prevalence of BDS and antisemitic activities.

We have learned that Jewish engagement is not dependent on the quality of the food served at social events. Effective engagement is based on the relationship built with the person who greets students when they walk in the door. Our own research has underscored how crucial this is to Hillel Ontario’s success. During strategic planning focus groups and interviews, the centrality of student relationships with Hillel campus professional emerged repeatedly. Therefore, in order to effectively fulfill our mission, we need to attract, invest in and retain high quality Jewish professionals.

Both Hillel International and Hillel Ontario have embraced the same strategic priority of investing in “Talent”. A significant shift from the historical approach taken by most Jewish organizations, we decided to shift our focus from the value of programs to the value of people. We believe that investing in the people who are engaging our Jewish students on campus will create real change and have a substantial impact. That by growing our team of dedicated professionals, we will substantially increase our capacity to meaningfully connect with students all across Ontario.

Studies show that lower staff-to-student ratios will lead to an increase in the breadth of student engagement and substantially increase our capacity to meaningful connect with and support the majority of undergraduate Jewish students.

We are thankful for the generosity of The Silber Family, as well as other donors who have joined them to support us in this work. The Silber Family is matching all donations made to support this academic year up until September 28th. Please support our students and the talented group of professionals we have assembled. I’m excited because the 2018-19 academic year will mark the first time in Hillel Ontario’s history that every one of our Hillel’s will have at least two of these professionals serving their campus communities.

Please join me in wishing all of our students and the staff who work to support them the best as they embark on the start of what I expect will be an amazing year.

Marc

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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