A Note from Marc Newburgh

by | Apr 29, 2020 | From Marc, Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

This moment is anything but normal.

After approximately six weeks of working from home, in what we now know is one of the most unprecedented global challenges in our collective history, Hillel Ontario has done what, only two months ago, would have been unthinkable – physically distanced ourselves from our students, one another and our surrounding communities. We have replaced in-person interactions with virtual ones, and have been considering, each and every day, how we protect the health and well-being of all those whom we care deeply about.

Hillel Ontario, alongside all of the vital organizations that sustain our strong and resilient Jewish community, is struggling. In the face of this global crisis, we know we are being confronted with a multitude of challenges, including substantial questions regarding how the pandemic and its aftermath will impact the lives of people around the world, the global economy, and philanthropy, including our own short- and long-term financial sustainability.

Given the current pandemic and economic crisis, Hillel Ontario’s funding is expected to decrease significantly over the next 6-12 months, like so many other organizations. While the financial and operating challenges resulting from the impact of COVID-19 are still unfolding, Hillel Ontario’s ability to fulfill its mission to the greatest extent possible has, and will continue to be, dramatically impacted. 

That said, we have “pivoted” quickly during a time of great uncertainty.  With the guidance of Hillel Ontario’s Board of Directors, we have taken immediate steps to mitigate the current financial risks. These included scrubbing all expenses, the closure of all physical Hillel spaces on every campus, and moving all programming online to keep our students connected, and to support their needs.

“Talent” is the heart and soul of this organization. Hillel Ontario is strong because of the investment it has made in the Jewish professionals who work each and every day to guide, mentor and support approximately 14,000 Jewish students at nine universities across the province. We have become a strong, impactful organization because of the talented professionals we employ, and the deep commitment they have to building community that inspires Jewish students to make an enduring commitment, to Jewish life, learning and Israel.

“Talent”, though, is also our largest expense, and so it is with a great deal of sadness that to date we have had to say goodbye to 21 of our colleagues. We hope a good many of these goodbyes will only be temporary, however, the reality of our current situation makes the date when we are able to welcome back our colleagues unknown.

Decisions affecting our upcoming fiscal year are also being considered. Various budget scenarios are being analyzed, corresponding with anticipated reductions in income of between 10% to 30%. These anticipated decreases in our funding may require us to serve some campuses only virtually. Further, programmatic spending will need to be scaled back, as we stretch our internal human resources thinner to serve multiple campuses.

Moving forward, there is no doubt that Hillel Ontario will look different. We will need to be creative in how we deploy our resources and continue to innovate to achieve our mission. However, it is my deepest hope, that as the weeks and months go on, we will work together to build Hillel Ontario back up into the robust organization we know we can be, and expand, once again, our ability to serve our Jewish campus communities.

Above all, Hillel Ontario remains steadfastly committed to supporting Jewish students across the province. Like the rest of us, our students are confronting a significant crisis that is not only a health threat, both physically and mentally, but one that has upended almost any sense of normalcy, and become, at least for the near term, their new reality. In this time of crisis, both students and staff have emerged with positive and innovative ways to support one another and maintain momentum from the semester on campus.

In many ways, Hillel has become a beacon of hope in this dark time for both our staff and all Jewish students in Ontario. Hillel has provided continuity and a sense of community through its virtual gatherings and online programming. Relationships created on campus have continued, and even been strengthened, as we ensure that no one feels isolated or alone. And, for the first time, the borders of each campus, both real and perceived, have come down to create a sense of unity across Jewish students in Ontario, and globally, that has never felt so strong.

Right now, the health and well-being of the Jewish communities throughout Ontario, and across Canada, remain our primary concern. The need to ensure that UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, the Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA, and the social service agencies that they support, have the resources necessary to function during this crisis, is our most important priority. Be assured that Hillel Ontario will be working with our partners to ensure that we are doing all we can to support our community’s needs. 

In this moment of uncertainty and challenge, each and every one of us is in need of extra strength. We, Hillel Ontario, are stronger because of each of you and at moments like this, we need each other more than ever. 

Stay safe and healthy!

Marc
CEO, Hillel Ontario

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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