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

A Time for Mourning, Consolation and Community

A Time for Mourning, Consolation and Community

Building on the rabbinic directive “Do not separate yourself from the community,” one medieval commentator asserts that each of us should join in carrying the community’s burdens “because anyone who separates from the congregation will not live to see the consolation of the congregation.” 

Ordinarily, this makes sense for the post-Passover period: we mourn as a community on Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’Zikaron, and then celebrate as a community on Yom HaAtzmaut. But this year, this type of convening isn’t possible, at least not physically. And while we may all be in this together, we’re having very different experiences based on how we’re situated, and this shutdown’s disparate impacts amplify pre-existing distinctions, like our age, health status, financial independence, and professional obligations.

Without papering these over, we come together over the next nine days as a community and as best as we are able, acknowledging all of the social, technological, and other barriers that make this difficult. To mourn and to celebrate, Hillel Ontario encouraged students to participate in the following:

  • UJA Shinshinim-led Yom HaShoah Zikaron Basalon, featuring live testimony from Holocaust survivor Roma Buchman and breakout discussions facilitated by Hillel Ontario’s Shinshinim.Hillel Ontario was incredibly proud of its Shinshinim Ben Daniel and Shalev Dahan for their involvement in yesterday’s UJA-sponsored Yom HaShoah Zikaron BaSalon program. After hearing from Holocaust survivor Roma Buchman, Shalev and Ben facilitated a discussion among undergraduate students about Ms. Buchman’s personal story and the Shoah’s relevance for us today. Student attendees were engaged in the program, as it provided moments of reflection, insight, and clarity for them as they considered their own Jewish identities and their families’ experiences with the Shoah.
  • Hillel Ontario’s Yom Ha’Atzmaut Reflecting on 72 Years: A night of music, reflection, celebration and Israel, transitioning from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut and presenting Israel- and independence-themed music and other entertainment.
  • UJA and the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre sponsored Cross-Canada Holocaust Remembrance Commemoration.
  • The Jewish Agency and Masa Israel are hosting a live screening of the Yom HaZikaron Memorial Service.
  • UJA’s Yom HaAtzmaut Event.

We hope you see you online and look forward both to reaching the end of our community’s mourning and separation from each other and to joining in our collective consolation and healing.

Hillel is There for Me: In Person or Online

Hillel is There for Me: In Person or Online

Being alone and isolated in quarantine has been challenging and difficult for many. But no matter where they are – whether in person or online – Hillel will be there to support our Jewish students and provide a sense of community. For many, Hillel’s programming and engagement has been a light of hope and provided a sense of continuity even after the semester ended so abruptly.

Read below to hear how Jewish students in Ontario are coping with self-isolation and connecting with one another virtually during this time.

Guelph Hillel

Hillel at home has been central to my COVID-19 isolation! Whenever I am bored or need friendly faces to speak to, there is always some sort of “event” or zoom chat going on to brighten my day.Jessica Pink

As difficult as it is to have a sudden abrupt ending to the school year, Hillel has been the one thing constant in my life. Despite the physical isolation, the social togetherness is present. Through zoom calls to catch up with friends, movie nights, book club and more, the feeling of the Hillel community remains present. I am grateful for the Hillel community and for trying to create a sense of normality in these uncertain times. – Dana Aronowitz

The COVID-19 pandemic and concern about health and welfare has increased fear and anxiety. Engaging in community and social events has been an important aspect of my university experience. Through these trying times, Hillel has provided a positive connection through virtual gatherings that have encouraged camaraderie and collaboration that has deepened my spirituality.Sophia Cherniak

Hillel UofT

At first, I thought Talmud and Tea was not going to continue online; I initially wondered, who would want to study Talmud in their spare time when the entire world seems to be in flux? Yet, I got messages from friends asking me to teach; they wanted some continuity and Torah wisdom in their lives right now. I feel really blessed to be a part of this Hillel community where people voluntarily choose to make space for Torah, a Torah that is relevant to our current experiences. I hope we can have many more moments of togetherness in the near future.Sofia Freudenstein

Western Hillel

Even from home, Hillel’s online presence has encouraged me to continue exploring my own Jewish identity – from Instagram cooking tutorials to Facebook watch Havdalah services. Student leaders have also been there for me by reaching out to make sure I am doing well under these tough circumstances. Hillel’s support and implementation of new events have better helped me cope with self-isolating due to COVID-19.Jackson Posner

Hillel Ryerson

These past few weeks have not been easy, however, the Hillel staff have been amazing in coordinating online versions of the weekly activities we would be having if we were still on campus. They have even been gracious enough to have even more activities to bring us together like “virtual coffee hour” and multiple “virtual lunches in the loft”. I am extremely grateful for the Hillel staff and their motivation to engage us in these tough times. They have made my days much more eventful and enjoyable.Brandon Baum, 

Hillel has been a great light for me during these dark and hard times. After the suspension of all in person activities, the Hillel staff posted on social media to let us know that they will always be there for us to talk, and also created virtual events! This is something so meaningful for me, because it goes to show how much of an effort is coming from them to help our community.Nicky Polansky

Hillel York

It’s in uncertain times like these where I truly appreciate Hillel and the support and distraction it has given me as I’m stuck at home. Having something as simple as a zoom call with a staff member shows me that I have someone I can talk to. They also hosted an amazing “Coffee Home” on zoom with lots of other students. Hillel is providing me the ability to still connect with others while I am social distancing at home. Even though I miss seeing people face to face, I still feel a part of Hillel. I love how I get to interact with them online, whether it’s through their cooking videos, workout workshops, and even their March Madness Brackets competitions! They have given me something to look forward to during this difficult time and I couldn’t be more grateful!Leah Goldschmidt

Over the span of the last two weeks, Hillel has been running so many virtual programs which is really making this process not just easier but a lot more fun. The other night they held “Coffee Home”, a coffee house zoom event where we all shared a coffee and I got to watch all my talented friends perform. It is so fun to see everyone on, even if it is on zoom, we get to be together while we’re all stuck, quarantined in our own homes. Everything they are doing on Instagram is keeping me entertained during these boring weeks, like their cooking segments, workout tips, and Instagram activities we get to do! Hillel has really been active with students, making this whole situation so much more enjoyable for myself and my peers during this isolating time.Shira Gabriel

Hillel has provided me with a sense of community that I am missing during this period of physical isolation. With Instagram challenges, Instagrams stories, Zoom calls and even leading Instagram live dance classes, I am feeling that connection to community. Hillel is my happy place on campus and has been my happy place during this time.Ilana Lazar

X