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

Something New

Something New

The fall post-holiday period is always a good time for launching new things. To the extent we’re not completely exhausted, our five-day work weeks are back (instead of five days of work crammed into three-day weeks), and we’re able to get into something of a rhythm and build momentum in moving toward specific goals.

Adding to the sense of newness and adventure, the third post-holidays Torah portion of Lekh Lekha, which was read this past Shabbat, begins with Abraham receiving divine instructions to leave his home and begin a journey to a new land.  Commentators highlight the uncertainty inherent in the command’s wording: instead of being directed to a specific place, Abraham, at least initially, is told to go “to the land that I will show you,” a vague and undisclosed destination. While he is promised blessings galore for his obedience, setting out requires an element of faith and quite a bit of trust as he leaves his home land and father’s house for somewhere new.

While it’s certainly several orders of magnitude smaller than the journey Abraham undertook, Hillel Ontario is trying something new this week: we’re introducing a new section to our regular newsletters and will be including a d’var Torah to showcase our students’ and staff’s skills and present our readers with a bit of Jewish learning. We hope you’ll find these commentaries inspiring and meaningful and that they’ll provide a glimpse of the Hillel Ontario community that spans our nine campuses.

A Message from Hillel Ontario’s Student Presidents

A Message from Hillel Ontario’s Student Presidents

Dear students, parents, supporters, and other members of the Ontario Jewish community,

We are writing to you as the Hillel presidents representing nine universities across Ontario. 

We are often asked what it’s like to be a Jewish student on campus. And, in previous years, we would have taken a more upbeat approach to answering that question. The truth is that things have changed over the past 5 months.

Prior to this spring’s war in Israel, we had never experienced the level of vitriol and backlash that we did recently. We were caught off guard. Many Jewish students lost friendships and severed connections that had been created over many years. Our mental health was stretched to the limit; we have felt burnt out, isolated and anxious.  Even now, with autumn upon us, we are still feeling the exhausting effects of a summer spent advocating for the well-being of our fellow Jewish students. 

Walking back onto campus this week, it was difficult to see some students obviously (and understandably) anxious – both because of the pandemic, and because of the antisemitism Jewish students have experienced over the past several months. At the same time, we also feel more empowered than ever to proclaim pride in our Jewish identity, bolstered by the tremendous support we have felt from across the community.  

Whether you are a first year student, a parent, a sibling, an alum, or simply a member of the community concerned about what seems like an endless barrage of attacks aimed at Jewish students on campus, we want to assure you that as Hillel presidents, we are deeply committed to our roles and responsibilities. We hear your concerns. And, we are proud to serve the current and future Jewish students we support.  

We are working to build relationships with student governments, clubs, interfaith groups, faculty, and administrators on each of our campuses. We continue to empower our peers to learn, to educate, and to advocate for the issues close to our hearts. And, we continue to provide a safe and welcoming community for Jewish students, both on and off campus. 

We also seek to increase resources and staff available to our students so that no one feels unsupported or ill-prepared. We want Jewish students to feel like they can be their entire selves without having to hide a Magen David or avoid conversations about Judaism, Zionism or Israel. 

As we move into a new Jewish year and a new school year, we wish we could say with more certainty exactly what is to come in the next few months. However, it would be naive to do so. Instead, we would like to take this opportunity to commit to you that we will continue to have challenging, but necessary, dialogue with allies across campus. We will continue to support our peers when they feel uncomfortable. And, we will continue to ask for help when we need it. 

Time and time again, our collective history has proven that in a proud, empowered, and united community there is strength, and that from one another we can draw resilience. 

L’shana Haba on quieter, more inclusive campuses. 

Ariel Oren, Guelph Hillel
Evan Kanter, Hillel Student Leader Representative, Hillel UofT
Nathaniel Katz, Queen’s Hillel
Shira Miller, Hillel Laurier
Danielle Lebowitz, Hillel Waterloo
Hannah Silverman, McMaster Hillel
Jordan Goldenberg, Hillel Ryerson
Isabel Borisov, Western Hillel
Nicole Bodenstein, York Hillel

X