All About Masha

by | Sep 6, 2017 | Entertainment, Fun, Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

Masha Jewski is not your average Matryoshka. While other Russian dolls wear flowers, Masha wears two shades of blue, the color of Hillel Ontario, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, and other Jewish and Israeli organizations, to welcome Jewish students from different communities. Masha herself is from Thornhill and studies at York University. However, she is often seen with students not only from York, but from Ryerson, UofT, Western and Waterloo. Masha grew up wearing Adidas Tapochki and eating her Babushka’s borscht. She also remembers the taste of Challah and Israel’s Milky Pudding. These are as familiar and comforting to her as Canadian Maple Syrup. She is a three-dimensional Russian doll with three different cultures. In this interview, Hillel Ontario speaks to Masha about her blended identity and what it means to be a Jewski.

 

Why do you consider yourself Jewski? Isn’t it sufficient to call yourself Russian Jewish or Israeli?

I consider myself all these things. I love Israel, I love Russian culture, and I love Jewish culture. Yet Jewski is a cultural phenomenon which is more than a mere blending of two cultures. I’m a Jewish girl who grew up in Israel speaking more than just Hebrew. I spoke a lot of Russian and felt the Russian culture as well as the Israeli culture at home, though neither of my parents are from Russia or Israel. I believe that Jewski is a unique result of Russian and Jewish history which gives me the cultural understandings I have today. Jewski isn’t a label meant to form a concise group for me to call my own, rather, it’s a heritage which I like to share with others.

 

Can you tell us more about your family and your background?

My parents studied in Novosibirsk, Russia, where they met and then left to Israel at a young age, near the end of the Soviet Union. My father is from Moldova and my mother is from Ukraine. I am the oldest of three sisters, one of which goes to Western and the other who goes to Waterloo. The three of us grew up in Netanya with our parents, where we spoke Russian at home. My mom would make us kotletki, pelmeni and syrniki after school. Then we moved to Canada when I was seven. We moved between places in Toronto for a bit, but finally settled in Thornhill where we’ve been living since.

 

When did you start to realize that Jewski was “a thing”? That people have a similar background to you?

Perhaps if you grew up in Thornhill you would know many Jewskis, but when I moved to Toronto, I didn’t live in a Jewish community right away. Growing up in Toronto, I met some young people who spoke Russian. I felt welcomed and got to know their background, and when I understood that they almost had the same family history as me I was surprised. When I moved to Thornhill, I began to feel a sense of community among people with families like mine. When I started studying at York, I met and connected to Russian speakers who are not Jewish, who are Jews of other backgrounds, Canadians, and others.

 

Were there some not-so-obvious cultural phenomena you noticed among yourself and other Jewskis?

One thing I wish people talked more about was language. I find that if you’re a lucky Jewski, you may speak all three languages Russian, Hebrew and English. I tend to envy that, because I forgot Hebrew when I got to Canada and now speak only Russian and English. Sometimes, I wish I could watch shows like Hatufim or Ramzor, or simply speak to Israelis I meet here in Thornhill or in Toronto. Other Jewskis may have the opposite situation where their Russian is rusty or gone, but they are excellent Hebrew speakers. And I think once people realize Jewski is an open community, we’d be able to help each other retain our heritage language and cultures.

 

How do you celebrate your culture now? What do you do and what are your interests?

I just kind of do what’s fun for me. On my own, I like to watch Russian shows like Kukhnya and Interni. I get a great laugh out of those and get to keep my Russian language. I also watch Ramzor with subtitles, and it reminds me that I’m part of a larger Israeli culture. I love these shows as much as I love shows like The Office and Seinfeld. My family owns a cottage near Peterborough. We drive there almost every weekend. There, we do Banya every Friday and come back inside to light the candles. I feel like I’m lucky to celebrate my heritage culture while seeing the traditional Canadians on the rural side, since we’re good friends with our neighbors there. When we stay back in Thornhill, I like to go with my mom to Cafe Landwer and order the Belgian Waffles. When my dad and sisters are around, we like going to Me Va Me.

 

You talk a lot about time with family, which is good. Where do you hang out with friends?

My friends take me to amazing places. I don’t know where to start. In May, a few friends and I were lucky enough to be on the same birthright trip. I have pictures of myself at the Western Wall from there. We also got to see the Golan Heights and Akko, and eat lots of schnitzel. I also came back from a trip with my friends at Western University, where I got to meet more Jewskis. It’s amazing because I see a mix of people from my town of Thornhill and people I haven’t met before. We also spend lots of time in Toronto. This year we had a Yom Haatzmaut party which had tons of people. I got to dance a lot that night. We also had a Lag Ba’Omer party where I felt like I was in Israel again, but in Toronto. And we have so many more things planned for this year… I’m sure we can do Banya together and go to eat. What I love about hanging out with my Jewski friends is that we can do so many different things together. I can party or relax at the fire, I can be 7000 miles away or right here in Thornhill. I am never bored, and I always feel at home.

 

Thank you Masha. Can we ever join you with your Jewski friends? Where can we see what you’re up to next?

Of course you can join us! You can find our Jewski group on Facebook. And if you ever want to see what we’re up to, just follow the hashtag #whereismasha on Facebook or @where.is.masha on Instagram. I really hope to see more new faces this upcoming school year.

Yonatan Koren is a 4th year Computer Science student at York. He enjoys being part of the Jewish community on campus and is eager to see it grow and welcome more students.

Hillel Ontario’s Remarks at Canada’s National Summit on Antisemitism

Hillel Ontario’s Remarks at Canada’s National Summit on Antisemitism

Today, the Government of Canada held a National Summit on Antisemitism.

Convened by The Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, and The Honourable Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, today’s Summit sought to provide parliamentarians and policymakers a comprehensive understanding of antisemitism in Canada, and identify concrete steps to address the issues facing the Jewish community.

Below is the full transcript of Hillel Ontario’s testimony.

Good afternoon, 

My name is Jay Solomon, and I am the Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer for Hillel Ontario. 

Supporting approximately 14,000 Jewish students at nine universities across the province, Hillel Ontario – now the largest Hillel in the world – empowers students to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning, and Israel.

This spring, Israel and Hamas – labelled a terrorist group around the world, including in Canada – squared off in the largest military conflict the region has experienced in some years. For both Israelis and Palestinians, the fighting was painful and distressing. 

In the wake of these tensions, around the world, and certainly here in Canada, supporters of Israel have been subjected to vile and sometimes violent vitriol. And, even more concerning, Diaspora Jews have been attacked – verbally and physically, online and in person – simply for being Jewish and regardless of their feelings about or connection to Israel.

As an illustration, I thought I would share just a few recent examples of some of what Jewish students have been subjected to on campuses in Canada in the past few months. At Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, a student posted a video on social media mocking the stabbing of Israelis. Near Western University, in London, a Nazi flag appeared at an anti-Israel rally. At McMaster University in Hamilton, a Jewish student was bullied online for showing support to Israel. And, on the personal social media pages of countless Jewish students across the province, blue squares and other expressions of concern about antisemitism were peppered with comments condemning Israel, levelling personal attacks at the students who posted them, and, in some, threatening physical violence. 

And then there’s the issues posed by student unions and faculty associations who in many cases have replaced informed debate and well-meaning dialogue – the cornerstones of university education – with one-sided rhetoric condensed to 20 second videos and 140-character tweets in an attempt to boil hundreds of years of culture and history into soundbites that are inevitably biased and simplistic. As a recent example, a student group at Western University published incredibly offensive social media commentary calling on the University Student Council to eliminate “all pro-Zionist narrative” from the campus. Another illustrative example involves the President of the University of Toronto Faculty Association who is alleged to have spoken about an “entitled powerful Zionist minority” at a recent academic panel.

These, and other, recent examples of antisemitism are as disturbing as they are unacceptable. Year over year, the Jewish community is the most targeted religious minority for hate crimes in Canada. And, these recent incidents underscore the important efforts that lay ahead – work that must include critical education on antisemitism, and a renewed commitment to relationship-building based on shared values and experiences. 

What many in the Jewish community have known for some time, but have been reluctant to say out loud, has become entirely self-evident in the past several months. We have long since recognized that antisemitism exists on a broad continuum, ranging from those who are simply uninformed, to those who are misinformed, to those who are wilfully ignorant. 

But, there’s another category; and it is one that has been taboo to speak of in many circles for too long. 

The unpopular reality is that some of the world’s worst antisemites (who, it just so happens, are among Israel’s most virulent detractors) embrace this label with malice and intentionality. And it is this type of poisonous, malevolent antisemitism that has been on full display recently. 

As the largest affiliate of the global Jewish student movement, Hillel Ontario’s student leadership and campus professionals have been working around-the-clock to support students who have been shaken by a tsunami of antisemitism online and on campus. 

We have communicated directly with university presidents, provosts, and student union leaders to ensure Jewish students were protected, and that their rights would be respected. We lodged official student code of conduct complaints and filed police reports when Jewish students were targeted; reported countless antisemitic posts on social media; provided personalized pastoral counselling; compiled educational resources and offered learning opportunities for those wanting to learn more; and provided space for students to process their own feelings, emotions and perspectives.

But, the truth is, our efforts on campus alone are not enough. And, we need your help. 

We need our nation’s leaders to come together to forcefully, consistently, and unconditionally condemn antisemitism – in all its forms – and to take proactive steps to secure the safety and security of the Jewish community of Canada, today and for the years to come.

We need formalized learning opportunities across the educational sector – for teachers, professors, administrators, equity officers, student government leaders and those charged with securing and protecting the campus community – to ensure historical and modern perspectives on antisemitism’s manifestations, as well as ways to combat them, are entrenched in and integrated into diversity, equity and inclusion and anti-oppression programming. Education on the perils of antisemitism must become a natural part of DEI and anti-oppression efforts on university campuses.

As a society, we must publicly acknowledge the overlap between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and recognize that, far too often, anti-Zionism is used as a convenient shield behind which antisemites stand. 

As advocates for the Jewish community, we know that it is acceptable to criticize Israeli policies, or voice legitimate concerns for the welfare of Palestinians. Like any other liberal democracy, Israel is not immune from legitimate criticism. 

But, we also know that fair-game critiques end when Jews are denied the universally held right to collective self-determination; when Jews are held collectively responsible for the actions of the Israeli government; when antisemitic tropes dating back centuries are used to target Jews and Jewish communal institutions; or when comparisons are drawn between Israel and the horrors of the Holocaust. 

We need Canadian leaders to stand with the overwhelming majority of Jewish Canadians in a definition of antisemitism that includes the delegitimization of the Jewish state. Like any other minority group, the Jewish community’s definition of our oppression should be defined by the majority of our community, not fringe elements within it or outside of it. 

We need our nation’s leaders to counter efforts to promote the divisive and discriminatory Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign against Israel, and work to promote dialogue and relationship-building opportunities based upon shared values. 

On behalf of Hillel Ontario, our students, professional staff and lay leadership, I want to offer my sincere thanks to the Government of Canada for convening this National Summit on Antisemitism, and for inviting me to participate in today’s proceedings. 

In the days and weeks ahead, Hillel Ontario stands ready to support the important work that lies ahead; to work in conjunction with the federal, provincial and municipal governments, and with university leadership, to support Jewish students in the ongoing fight against antisemitism. 

Thank you.

A Hillel Summer: Keeping Spirits High

My name is Stacey Ianco and I am going into my third year at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management. Hillel has been my home away from home, and has helped me embrace my Jewish culture, enhance my Jewish identity, and meet new people.. 

This year has been like no other we have experienced. Throughout these challenging times, I have felt lucky to have remained connected with my fellow students – especially through my involvement in Hillel. 

Especially given the year we just experienced, Hillel has been vital to my Jewish campus life. That’s why I was so excited to hear that Hillel programming was going to continue during the summer.

Hillels Ryerson, York and UofT teamed up to create the Summer in the 6ix program, and I knew I wanted to participate. 

In addition to receiving some really cool swag, Summer in the 6ix connected me with activities and programming I

 could engage in alongside (virtually) other Jewish students across the GTA. We baked and decorated delicious sugar cookies over a Hillel Zoom meet, sharpened our knowledge and competed with other Hillel students in bi-weekly trivia games, and customized our Hillel t-shirts with tie-dye. In a summer characterized by distancing and separation, Hillel brought me closer to my community.

To be sure, this has been a difficult year for so many reasons. I am so appreciative of all that Hillel does for Jewish students across the province. Especially this year.

I will continue to be an active member of Hillel for all my years of university and the future. Hillel has given me the confidence I need to be a proud Jewish woman and has enhanced my university experience in many ways. 

I look forward to being able to create more special events to include and connect every Jewish student in Ontario for many years to come.

Stacey I., Hillel Ryerson Student Leader

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