An Update from our CEO Re-Opening our Spaces

by | Aug 31, 2020 | From Marc, Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

I hope you are enjoying these summer months and staying safe and healthy.

You read in my previous blog, that when our students return to class this fall they will find a newly restructured Hillel. And so now that Universities across the province have shared their plans to reopen, I’d like to share an update on how we at Hillel Ontario are thinking about our students and our staff, and how we’re planning for the start of the academic year.

It really can’t be said enough—the health of our students, and the health of our staff, are our priority. And every decision we make as we address our operations will be made through that lens. We want to be sure the approach we’re taking is thoughtful, and that we’re creating a Hillel environment that’s safe for everyone.

Our Hillel spaces won’t open all at once, we’re going to take a phased approach, only reopening when: 

  •   we are allowed to do so based on guidelines set by provincial and municipal governments;
  •   we are aligned with plans that have been formalized by our university partners
  •   we’re prepared with the right safety measures and protocols; and
  •   we have confidence we can ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students and our staff.

When we do reopen, more than anything we want to ensure our students and staff are safe, and that they feel comfortable. We’re therefore making updates to the way in which we operate and support our students to help keep everyone healthy. Some of those updates include:

  •   conducting health screenings for our staff;
  •   providing face coverings for staff and students
  •   taking steps to allow for social distancing of two meters or more, which may have to include limiting the number of staff and students in our space;
  •   increasing cleaning and sanitization;
  •   pausing or adapting various programs and events; and
  •   altering hours of operation, as may be necessary.

You can learn more about our approach, details on how we’re ensuring a safe environment, and ways we’re supporting our students, staff, and communities on our website. We’ll also post details on social media relative to each individual campus.

Should you wish to speak to a member of our team please email administrator@hillelontario.org. 

Stay safe and healthy,
Marc Newburgh, CEO

Weekly D’var: Vayetzei

Weekly D’var: Vayetzei

This week’s parsha is one that is filled near to overflowing with iconic stories.  Covering Jacob’s travels to, life in, and departure from Haran, the home of his uncle (and eventually father-in-law) Laban, Vayetzei recounts the stories of Jacob’s dream of the ladder, his marriages, first to Leah, then to Rachel, the births of twelve of his children, and so much more.  

With all of this, I am struck by a couple of stories that are not explicitly in our text at all, but come to us in the form of Madrash, the traditional interpretations or explanations of our text that have come down from the sages.

The stories that have captured my interest are surrounding two verses that come at the very beginning of our text (Genesis 28:11 and 28:18) and are seeking to explain a seeming inconsistency between these verses. Just as Jacob is lying down to have his famous dream, we are told that “He took from the stones of the place and set it/them at his head and lay down in that place”, the Hebrew text being unclear on the number of stones Jacob had taken.  Verse 18, which picks up immediately after the dream, is by contrast, very clear, saying, “he took the stone that he had set at his head and set it up as a standing-pillar”. 

The first explanation comes from Rashi (11th/12th c. French commentator), who explains that Jacob had taken a number of stones and arranged them around his head for protection, prompting an argument among the stones, with each asking that they have the honour of holding the righteous man’s head.  Rashi goes on to say that at this point, the holy one fused the rocks into one. 

There are a number of others that appear in the great collection of Midrash, Breishit Rabbah, each offering a different number of stones.  One of the stories counts twelve stones to teach Jacob that he would be the father of twelve tribes; another, three stones, teaching that God’s oneness would be made known through Jacob; yet another, two stones, to teach that Jacob’s progeny would be worthy to form the people Israel.

Our tradition offers us all of these understandings of a single moment in the life of Jacob, each of them teaching him a different lesson.  We can find multiple interpretations of most stories from the Torah; that is part of the beauty of Midrash.  But I am struck by the form that these midrashim take, each of them recounting a lesson learned, each examining a single moment.  In this, I am reminded of the beauty of reflection, of a life examined, reminded that, within the hustle and bustle of our lives, and despite it, each moment has so much potential to teach us.

Rabbi Danny A Lutz
Senior Jewish Educator, Guelph Hillel

Weekly D’var: Chayei Sarah

Weekly D’var: Chayei Sarah

The second line of this week’s parsha tells us that Sarah, our matriarch, died in Kiryat Arba in the land of Canaan. The first verse, and the one from which we get the name of the parsha, Chayei Sarah, describes her life; “Sarah’s lifetime came to one hundred and twenty-seven years.” Abraham has just proved his dedication to God; he offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice before God, was commanded to spare him, and received a blessing. Abraham was promised that his descendants would outnumber the stars in heaven and the grains of sand, but his wife Sarah, his partner and his children’s mother, has now died. Abraham mourns Sarah and weeps by her. His experience of deep sadness is another low point in his turbulent story. Despite being offered by the Hittites and Ephron a burial place, he insists on paying them the full amount of silver it is worth and when Abraham dies at a hundred and seventy-five, he joins Sarah in the cave on Ephron’s land.

This parsha always makes me think of the ritual of shiva, the week of mourning following the death of a loved one. Mourners are joined by their community to provide comfort and meet the needs of the family and are present as those closest to the deceased say kaddish. The mourner’s kaddish is a fascinating and beautiful exaltation, a prayer for peace and for God to hear us and keep us, something that can feel jarring and distinct from grief and loss. The value of the Jewish ritual following death is that we gather to remember and reminisce the span of a person’s existence in our lives and their affect on the world around them for good, not simply to lament their passing. We’re told in the parsha that after they are wed, “Isaac loved [Rebekah], and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” 

Jacob Brickman
Hillels Waterloo & Laurier

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