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

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023

In their research on listening to survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides, Bronwen E. Low and Emmanuelle Sonntag note listeners’ problematic tendencies towards one of two responses.  On the one hand, they can regard the narratives as so unfamiliar and foreign that they must be pushed away as overwhelming, untouchable, and inaccessible.  On the other, the stories can be seen as familiar, to the point that the listener cannot separate their own experiences and emotional response from what they take in.

But another, preferable response exists: Roger I. Simon and Claudia Eppert talk about a “chain of testimony” and suggest that listening imposes a duty on the listener.  Listening to personal testimony at the crossroads of memory and history “imposes particular obligations on those called to receive it – obligations imbued with the exigencies of justice, compassion, and hope that define the horizon for a world yet to be realized.”  In this way, bearing witness and listening to testimony demands a number of actions and responses, including that we “transport and translate stories of past injustices beyond their moment of telling by taking these stories to another time and space where they become available to be heard or seen.”

If we take Simon and Eppert’s charge seriously, as I believe we should, those of us who have been privileged to hear the direct testimony of survivors of the Holocaust.  Their words come not just with the specific knowledge they impart or the emotional impact they have on us – sorrow, anger, fear, horror – but with a duty, an obligation of some kind.  

On many of our campuses, this week is Holocaust Education Week, and this Friday marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Given the significant number of Holocaust survivors and their descendants in Canada, the scheduled events and programs have a personal resonance for many of our students and their families, but their impact can be deep and meaningful for all of us, regardless of who we are and where we come from.  I encourage each of you to make time to participate in this week’s activities and to consider your place in the chain of testimony: what obligation does listening to narratives from the Holocaust place on you, and how do you carry those stories forward in time?

 

Weekly D’var: Shemot

Weekly D’var: Shemot

In this week’s parashah we learn the story of Moses, from his birth, through his flight from and eventual return to Egypt, to the acceptance of his role as leader of the Hebrew people.

After fleeing Egypt, for killing an Egyptian slave master, Moses was living rather peacefully as a shepherd in the land of Midian. The Torah describes for us Moses’s first interaction with G-d upon coming across a bush, “burning with a heart of fire [Exodus 3:3]”. G-d calls out to Moses and requests he take the Jewish people out of Egypt and eventually into the land of Israel. However, Moses argues with G-d, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? Who am I that I should take the Jews out of Egypt? [Exodus 3:11]” After initially refusing four times, Moses eventually agrees to G-ds request, and as we know, the rest is history. But why was Moses so unwilling to take up the position of leader, to the extent that he would argue with G-d? And why was G-d so set on having Moses lead the Jewish people? 

Perhaps the answer can be found through the incident that led to his flight from Egypt, years earlier, when Moses, as mentioned above, killed an Egyptian slave master for beating a Hebrew slave. Immediately, he was met with opposition from some of the Hebrew slaves, “who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian? [Exodus 2:14]” Moses felt discouraged and unsure of his ability to lead. However, it seems that G-d saw in Moses, a faithful shepherd, the ability to lead his people from slavery to freedom. Very often in Tanakh, the people that are most worthy to lead are the ones who deny that they are worthy at all. Moses may not appear to be the first choice for a leadership figure, suffering from a speech impediment and lacking charisma; however, Moses possessed certain qualities that made him the ideal leader to bring the Jewish people out of Egypt. We too possess qualities that can lead us to achieve incredible success and realize our full potential. We may often feel unmotivated or unsure of our own capabilities. Instead of feeling discouraged, I believe we can look to Moses who, despite all his doubts, stepped up to the challenge and became the greatest leader in Jewish history. 

Sam Virine
VP of Jewish Life at Hillel Waterloo & Laurier

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