Being Jewish at York

by | Jul 24, 2019 | Jewish Life at York | 0 comments

Written by Nicole Tillin, President of Hillel York

On November 22, York Hillel hosted another awesome Frosh Series event. It was a panel discussion that included upper year students Nicole Tilin – President of Hillel at York, Ezra Tanen – Vice President of Multifaith, and Zach Gladstone – President of AEPi at York. Also, Hillel Ontario’s Associate Director of Advocacy, Ilan Orzy, joined the panel as a staff representative. The discussion focused upon Jewish life on campus, specifically addressing common misconceptions held by the outside community on what it means to be a Jewish student at York University. This, we hope, helped empower our first year students.

The panelists talked about their experiences of what it was like being a Jewish student at York (spoiler: it’s not frightening!), they discussed why York always finds itself in the spotlight, and how Jewish students can get involved on campus, in a Jewish or non-Jewish capacity.

Benji Feldman, one of the first year attendants, felt the event was very “informative and a casual way to learn about Jewish life at York”.

It was a meaningful talk to help first years feel more comfortable with their Jewish identities at York, to understand the realities that come with it, and how to leave a mark on campus.

“The Panel Discussion provided me with a new insight on Jewlish life on campus. After hearing the viewpoints from the different students, I learned about the importance of embracing Hillel and its comfort and about putting myself out there. It is important to embrace your Judaism and share it with the world so others can learn from you and we can end the stigma altogether.”

Chayai Sara

Chayai Sara

Who was Sarah? The Torah tells us the following:

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.

וַיִּהְיוּ֙ חַיֵּ֣י שָׂרָ֔ה מֵאָ֥ה שָׁנָ֛ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְשֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים שְׁנֵ֖י חַיֵּ֥י שָׂרָֽה׃
However, there is no summary of who the first matriarch is. Rashi comes to teach us that the odd phrasing of this verse reveals the specific character traits of Sarah. At 100 years old, she was like a 20-year-old (in terms of her sin count) and so too at 20 for a 7-year-old. At 100, she had the innocence of a 20-year-old, and at 20 the innocence of a 7-year-old. Rashi goes even further than this: all the years of Sarah were equally good. There was not a moment in her life that she faltered – she was constantly “good”.

What does this “good” mean, and how can we emulate it in our daily life? 

We see in Tehillim (Psalms) 27:3:

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and be nourished by faith.”

Rashi explains doing good here as the following: “Then you will dwell in the Land for a long time”. By this, Rashi means that doing good means living in Israel for a long period of time. 

What does goodness and the land of Israel have to do with one another? One can interpret this in many different ways, but I’m going to focus on just one.

When Sarah moved to the Land of Israel with Abraham, she was fulfilling her spiritual purpose.  More specifically, going to the Land that would be promised to the Jewish people in and of itself served to benefit all of Klal Yisrael – the entire Jewish people. When someone helps one person in the Diaspora, they’re helping that one person, but when someone helps someone in Israel, they’re helping the entirety of the Jewish people. We are all connected and affected by the good that happens in the Land, including maintaining a Jewish presence and engaging in Jewish life there. Even looking throughout Jewish history, Jews from all over the world would support poor and pious Jews living in Jerusalem. So when Sarah moved to Israel, she was actively making the decision to not just live for herself, but to start living for the entire Jewish people.  Even her name change (from Sarai, my princess, to Sarah,our princess) indicates this.

So how do we be good? To take care of others and be leaders of the Jewish people

– Noa Muscat, Hillel York JLIC Representative on Student Exec who is in her 3rd Year of Concurrent Education



Hillels York, UofT and Ryerson

This past week, Hillels York, UofT and Ryerson, in partnership with JLIC, celebrated Purim together. As we all know, this year has been an especially unique year. Although there was no way to have a regular in-person Megilah reading and Purim party, Hillel got creative by organizing a drive-in Megilah reading! People dressed up, sat in their cars, and listened to Ben Shore (a fellow student at UofT) read the Megilah. Taking advantage of being in our cars, we honked at the sound of Haman’s name. At the end, everyone had the chance to get a shawarma laffa and later join a virtual game night over zoom. This Purim was definitely different, but one we won’t soon forget. Thank you to everyone who was able to make this Purim so special!

  • Hadar Wercberger, Hillel Ryerson


Queen’s Hillel

On Purim, Jews (of legal drinking age) are encouraged by the Talmud to drink until they do not know the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai”. With this in mind, one of the ways through which Queen’s Hillel celebrated Purim was to follow this custom. Following the lead of Dammara Kovnats Hall, the founder of Jewish Cocktails, students joined together over Zoom to create three delicious Purim-themed cocktails and mocktails. The drinks were based on ingredients that have traditionally been available during the time of Purim and were inspired by different aspects of the holiday. The drinks we made included the Shushan Sipper, the Hamentaschen Martini, and Masks and Mystery; a whisky and ginger beer-based drink that was my personal favourite.

A few days before, we delivered a basic mixology kit complete with mason jars, cocktail umbrellas, Hamentaschen, and an ingredient list to students. For me, part of what made the event so much fun was everyone laughing together over different substitutions that people were making if they did not have a specific ingredient or a tool to use when making their drinks. Through this event, we were able to successfully replicate the party atmosphere that Purim typically has. 

In a year where we’ve been forced to hold all of our events online, it can be difficult to plan an event online while ensuring that engagement is still high. With our Masks and Mixology event, we had no trouble at all! Purim is a holiday that is meant to be celebrated with others through giving out Mishloach Manot (gift baskets), dressing up, and getting together to listen to the reading of the Megilah. While Purim celebrations over the world certainly looked different this year, being able to celebrate over zoom through our mixology event allowed myself and many others to feel as though it was a regular celebration. Having had the opportunity to celebrate Purim and other holidays online, it’s provided a sense of normalcy in a year that has been anything but normal and has allowed students to get a sense of the Queen’s Hillel experience.

Dammara provided us with the opportunity to perfect our mixology skills while getting a chance to explore Judaism and the themes of Purim together. While it may not have been a traditional celebration of Purim, I know that I will be bringing these cocktail recipes with me to celebrate Purim next year.

  • Belinda Cantor, Queen’s Hillel


McMaster Hillel

It has become challenging to create engaging, exciting and meaningful virtual events during the lockdown. “Free Esther”, a Purim-themed escape room that was envisioned and constructed by the McMaster Hillel executive team, challenged participants to enter a maze of puzzles as Mordechai tries to free Esther, the female protagonist of the Purim story. Participants worked together and got to know each other as they worked to solve the puzzles that would lead to Esther.

This event was a huge success! We brought together Judaism, tradition and people in a fun and engaging activity. One participant mentioned that this had been “the best event I’ve been to all year!” (including all virtual experiences by any organization). 

Incredibly, community engagement is thriving at events like this, despite the pandemic. We hope that events like these will compel more people to get involved with Hillel and their community in the future. With that in mind, McMaster Hillel will hopefully return next year with more fun Purim-related adventures, perhaps an in-person escape room. We wish everyone a Chag Purim Sameach!

  • Andy Roth, McMaster Hillel


Guelph Hillel

It’s been tough to get into the Purim spirit this year while separated from friends and family, but Guelph Hillel came together to create a virtual Purim Murder Mystery event that brought the community together in a new and exciting way. The event on Tuesday, March 2nd, was preceded by a Purim-themed Shabbox delivery on Friday — Shabbat dinner was delivered to students across Guelph, along with extra goodies for the holiday, and Mishloach Manot (gift baskets) were sent out to students residing in Toronto. The interactive event on Tuesday event gave students the chance to interview characters from the Purim story — King Achashverosh, Queen Esther, Mordechai, Haman, Zeresh, and Shashgaz — to find out who killed Vashti in an exciting murder mystery plot! These characters were portrayed by student actors, who all worked incredibly hard to bring them life, and it was thoroughly entertaining chatting with each of them. Students participating were put into teams and got to interview each character twice before coming to a team verdict and voting on who they suspected the murderer was.

It was exciting to be teamed up with new people and work together to solve the puzzle, and a great opportunity to make new friends! Even after the event was officially over, most of the participants didn’t want to leave, and many stayed online to chat and hang out with new friends and old. It was wonderful to see people so engaged with this event and immediately forming connections with other members of the Guelph Hillel community. Though we all hope to be able to celebrate Purim in-person next year, this kind of innovative programming from Guelph Hillel made the holiday special despite challenging circumstances.

  • Alex Thomson, Guelph Hillel

The Guelph Hillel Murder Mystery was amazing!! I constantly found myself on the edge of my seat! It was incredibly interactive, and it rid me of my Zoom fatigue. Every student was invested in the program and in their given characters, which made the competitive atmosphere enjoyable and motivated me to win. It was so nice to meet and chat with new people and old friends, and make new connections on our new virtual world. This was by far the best event I have attended throughout the pandemic, and I am looking forward to a Passover murder mystery, perhaps who killed Pharaoh…

  • Debby Klachook, Guelph Hillel