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!
CEO, Hillel Ontario