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.

Weekly D’var: Netzavim

Weekly D’var: Netzavim

This week’s parsha, Nitzavim, begins with an expression of the universality of God’s covenant with the Israelites. It wasn’t enough to say ‘all of you’ who are standing before God, rather, we are given a list of all those assembled before Moses as he instructed them before they entered the land of Israel. In this list, we see a hierarchy of social and religious significance; we are told that among those present are tribal leaders, elders, officials, men who have households, children, wives, and ‘strangers’, the servants.

Moses continues to remind the Israelites of God’s actions during their journey out of Egypt, the commandments they have been given, and the consequences of both living by and living against the conditions of the covenant. There are warnings of curses and anger and wrath and promises of blessing and sustenance and reward. This is, at its simplest, Moses’ final attempt to give the Israelites a moral compass, a sense of right and wrong in God’s eyes, as they finally cross into the land promised to their ancestors, but without Moses’ leadership.

There is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful pieces of language in the Torah towards the end of Moses’ instructions to the Israelites (Deut. 30 12-16):

[This instruction] is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I command you this day, to love your God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commandments, God’s laws, and God’s rules, that you may thrive and increase, and that your God may bless you in the land that you are about to enter and possess.

As Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur near again, this week’s parsha is a reminder that when we are celebrating, showing humility and remorse, asking one another and God for forgiveness, we are equal. The opportunity to act righteously, care for ourselves and others around us, and enjoy prosperity is accessible and within the reach of every one of us, regardless of privilege and position, as is the opportunity near to us to turn from our misdeeds and transgressions towards goodness in the new year.

Shanah Tovah U’metuka
A Happy and Sweet 5783!

A New Hillel Home in Kingston!

A New Hillel Home in Kingston!

Kingston, ON – September 21, 2022

For 50 years, the Otterburn House in Kingston, Ontario was the home of Queen’s Hillel. Since 2018, however, Queen’s Hillel has been without a permanent location, necessitating the use of temporary rental space on-campus.

Over the past year, Beth Israel Synagogue invested in an intensive rejuvenation project to give the Otterburn House its first major update since 1992. Today, with the invaluable support of two community visionaries, we are excited to share that our Queen’s Hillel staff, Yos and Leora Tarshish, will be making the Otterburn House both their own home, and a renewed base for Queen’s Hillel. By creating a welcoming community grounded in their own lives, Yos and Leora will serve as a model for what Jewish living in all of its dimensions can be, and leverage the successful models of Base and Moishe House.

On behalf of Hillel Ontario, Chief Executive Officer, Rabbi Seth Goren said the following:

“Hillel Ontario has been striving to ensure that Queen’s Hillel once again had a space to meaningfully engage Jewish students in Kingston. Yos and Leora Tarshish have been working tirelessly to nurture strong and resilient Jewish students, build innovative micro-communities, and empower the next generation of community advocates. With the invaluable support of community philanthropists who are committed to the Kingston community, and to the future of Jewish students at Queen’s, Hillel Ontario could not be more pleased to see Hillel once again have a permanent home in Kingston.”

On behalf of Queen’s Hillel, Director, Yos Tarshish said the following:

“Leora and I are incredibly excited to be moving into the Otterburn House, and welcoming a new generation of Jewish students into a space that holds such a special place in the history of Queen’s Hillel. The space has been lovingly restored by the hard work of the Beth Israel Otterburn Committee, led by Arnie Palmer, Michael Springer, Richard Kizell and Mark Malinoff, and it is a true testament to the vigour and tenacity of the Kingston Jewish community. Jewish student life has been steadily growing in Kingston for more than a decade, and Hillel is at the forefront of ensuring that the Jewish community on campus is both vibrant and inclusive. We are honoured to engage Jewish students on campus in Kingston, and are immensely grateful for the opportunity to bring Hillel activities back to Otterburn.”

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Hillel Ontario is the largest regional Hillel in the world, serving nine universities, with a combined Jewish student population of 14,000.

For additional information, please contact:

Jay Solomon
Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer
jay.solomon@hillelontario.org

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