Bringing My Summer Experience Back to Hillel

by | Sep 9, 2019 | Jewish Life at UofT | 0 comments

Sofia Freudenstein, Class of 2021

This summer I worked at an organization called Ayeka. Ayeka is a Hebrew word taken from the term in Genesis that describes God looking for Adam and Eve after they ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge: “The Lord God called out to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:12).  Ayeka, the organization, takes this question to a broader context, asking: Where are you on your Jewish journey? Where are you in your connection to Jewish text, people, and spirituality?

Ayeka attempts to address these questions by working on curricula and educating people to ask these questions of themselves and the liturgy with which they interact. I might pray three times every day, or once a year, or not at all, but am I actually taking the time to think seriously about my place in the world as a Jew? What is my calling? Most interestingly, Ayeka teaches educators, believing that the best way to convey a message isn’t necessarily changing the text, but instilling passion in the educator.

Rabbi Aryeh ben David, the founder of Ayeka, has an idea of harmonic vibrations. When you put two guitars facing each other, whatever is plucked on one guitar vibrates on the other: they influence each other.  So too with people: when one gives off a certain attitude, it rubs off. In educational spaces, if one gives off a feeling of passion and interest, it usually inspires and empowers others.

That’s why Ayeka creates retreats and programming to ‘recharge’ educators, to make their teaching and interaction with Jewish text more dynamic. Israel is a great place to exercise all of this since the history and connection to the past makes everything in Israel more meaningful – everything contributes to the mission of the millenia-old Jewish story.

I am excited to take some of the skills I’ve learned back to campus and specifically Hillel this year.  I think a great way to connect Jewishly is through text since there is such a range of reading really for anyone.  There’s literature, logic, poetry, history – I think everyone can find their own personal voice in it. I hope that Hillel will have lots of opportunities for us to explore our voices in the Jewish story this year!

Hillel Ontario Welcomes University of Toronto’s Anti-Semitism Working Group

Hillel Ontario Welcomes University of Toronto’s Anti-Semitism Working Group

Hillel Ontario welcomes University of Toronto’s recent launch of a new Anti-Semitism Working Group. The Working Group will review programming, activities, processes, and practices in place at the University of Toronto’s three campuses and develop recommendations to support the University’s response to antisemitism.

“The establishment of a working group focused on antisemitism is a much-needed measure for the University of Toronto,” said Rob Nagus, Senior Director, Hillel UofT. “Too often, Jewish students who have faced antisemitism on campus have felt that their serious concerns around anti-Jewish hate were dismissed. Given the positive impact of recent anti-racism initiatives on the campus community, it is incumbent on our institutions to also address the unique challenges inherent to combating antisemitism.”

“Across the nine campuses we serve, Hillel Ontario is committed to working with all university administrations to champion the voices of Jewish students,” said Marc Newburgh, CEO, Hillel Ontario. “We look forward to supporting the work of the University of Toronto by ensuring these voices are heard and acknowledged. Doing so will help the Working Group better understand how contemporary antisemitism manifests on campus.”

The Sukkot Wellness Challenge

The Sukkot Wellness Challenge

I love the holiday of Sukkot and look forward to it every year. While often overshadowed by the High Holy Days, I find that it offers us a chance to relax after the intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For a week, we are invited to enjoy the outdoors, to celebrate abundance, and to express gratitude (going back to the holiday’s roots as a celebration of a successful harvest season). 

Yet, accessing the joy, the gratitude, and the togetherness of Sukkot seemed almost impossible given the challenges posed by the pandemic, and the fact that we as a Hillel community remain scattered across the GTA (and beyond!), spending most of our days connecting only virtually. 

At the same time, perhaps the most important word of our season has been “wellness.” We, students and staff, have been particularly attuned to the need to care for our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing. To state the obvious, it’s a tough time. As a Hillel community, we knew we had to try to meet the moment. 

Students from York, Ryerson and UofT gathered to brainstorm together: What did they need most right now? What did their friends, classmates, and peers need? How could we find a way to both celebrate Sukkot and care for ourselves across virtual time and space? 

What emerged was Sukkot Wellness Week, a menu of experiences that spanned the week of Sukkot, offering multiple ways to mindfully care for ourselves and each other.

First, there was a daily instagram prompt, alternating between thoughtful and silly questions about Sukkot, inviting students to think about their favourite fall comfort foods, Sukkah decorations, and what special guests they would welcome into their metaphorical (or actual) Sukkah. 

Second, we offered a different experience each day, focused on a different area of wellness.

  • Spiritual: on Tuesday, students joined me in learning Jewish texts related to the deep connections between Sukkot and wellness.
  • Mental: on Wednesday, students hosted a Wellness Wednesday check-in, a preview of what we hope will be a regular fixture in our Hillel calendar. 
  • Physical: On Thursday, a student prepared a meditation to offer us a chance to breathe and to pay attention to how we were feeling in our bodies. 
  • Emotional: On Friday, a student led trivia and other games as a way to destress from the week. Much laughter ensued.

By design, there was something for everyone. More importantly, Sukkot Wellness Week set the stage for an ongoing conversation about how we care for our full selves, and how this is deeply grounded in what it means to live Jewishly. Our work is far from over, and while Sukkot only lasts a week, it’s themes can help power us through the year ahead. 

Rabbi Ariella Rosen, Senior Jewish Educator