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

Fall Semester Student Survey Results

Fall Semester Student Survey Results

Undergraduate and graduate students completed our survey this month to let us know how we can best support them in the very unique, upcoming academic year. Here’s what we found:

Total respondents: 458
Total respondents by academic year:

Most schools have said they will have a “hybrid” model of learning in the Fall. Where will our students be living?

If Hillel was to offer any in-person opportunities, here are the top precautions that would make students feel most comfortable participating:

    • Enhanced cleaning of all spaces
    • Providing hand sanitizer
    • Ensuring that physical distancing is maintained
    • Limiting the number of people according to the provincial gathering restriction at any given time
    • Completing a sign-in list for the purposes of contact tracing

Students’ greatest fears for the upcoming year:

    • Uncertainty about the quality of an online educational environment
    • Feeling isolated from my friends/community
    • Zoom fatigue

Top 5 programs and interests that our students are most interested in for the upcoming year:

    • Holocaust Education
    • Social Events
    • Volunteering Opportunities
    • Israel
    • Mental Health & Wellness

What else can Hillel do to support Jewish students across the province?

    • Hybrid of virtual and in-person programming
    • Checking in with students
    • Keeping students in the loop when Hillel doors plan to open
    • More support for mental health, including more in-person events (if possible), webinars with mental health professionals, fun programming to look forward to.
    • Casual social events to replicate the feeling of being in Hillel spaces
    • Ensuing first-year students find connections, even virtually
    • Providing a sense of community, fun, and normalcy during this time
No Silence on Race – Hillel Ontario Statement of Support

No Silence on Race – Hillel Ontario Statement of Support

Hillel Ontario is proud to be a signatory to No Silence on Race. We endorse the letter’s aims of dismantling racism in Jewish communities and welcome its outline of nine pillars as a guide for our efforts.

Our organizational vision is an Ontario where every Jewish student is inspired to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. Hillel Ontario takes the word “every” seriously; our vision demands virtual and physical spaces that intentionally welcome Black, Mizrachi, Sefardi, and Indigenous Jews and Jews of Colour and celebrate all Jewish identities. Indeed, the Hillel Ontario we envision is based in a community that enthusiastically reflects a full spectrum of Jewish diversity.

We acknowledge both that we have work to do in this area and the importance of committing to concrete action. Inspired by No Silence on Race, we commit to the following:

  • Adopting a listening posture so we can better understand the experiences of BIPOC, Mizrachi, and Sefardi Jews;
  • Inviting, but not requiring, the BIPOC individuals among our staff, lay leadership, and students to be part of our efforts to learn and grow as an organization;
  • Examining recruitment and hiring practices to bolster BIPOC representation among staff (including campus and organizational leadership) and lay leaders;
  • Launching educational content, training, and learning for staff, students, and other stakeholders on issues of racial justice, implicit bias, power, and privilege, among other topics;
  • Strengthening and leveraging our relationships with campus diversity offices to provide training for our students and staff and to better serve as allies to all BIPOC members of our campus communities;
  • Recognizing the emotional labour that goes into BIPOC individuals contributing to our organization’s betterment and ensuring that they are appropriately compensated;
  • Redoubling our efforts to enhance programming for and about BIPOC Jews;
  • Reaching out to other Jewish organizations engaging in their own efforts in this sphere with an eye toward convening representatives and forming a collaborative working group for mutual support, direction, and accountability;
  • Developing a multi-faceted plan for cultivating diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism; and
  • Exploring the best way to advance this work internally and hold ourselves accountable, including the possibility of assembling a Hillel Ontario task force to learn about, investigate, and respond to racial injustice, implicit bias, power, and privilege.

The tenth century midrash Tanna Debei Eliezer cites G-d as asking and directing the Jewish people in part, “My children, there is nothing I lack that you could provide me. What do I ask of you? Only that you love each other, respect each other, and have reverence for each other.” In seeking to create a more welcoming, inclusive, and equitable Jewish community, we embrace the sentiment behind No Silence on Race and look forward to future progress toward a truer expression of klal yisrael, the unity of the entire Jewish people.

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