A Time for Mourning, Consolation and Community

by | Apr 21, 2020 | Hillel Ontario, Jewish Holiday, Opportunities

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.

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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