Over the past several years, Hillel Ontario has run Hillel International’s Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF), as well as an Israel-centred counterpart appropriately called the Israel Learning Fellowship (ILF). These small-cohort programs offer the opportunity for participants to learn about Judaism, Jewishness, and Israel, to deepen their understanding about a variety of Jewish topics, and to progress on their Jewish journeys.
What’s a bit unusual about JLF, ILF, and similar programs is that the manner in which these programs are run is as important as the content. In addition to providing substantive learning, they encourage moments of connection and relationship building. More specifically, the small group size and the nature of the conversations create a cohesive community grounded in Jewish learning and a mentor-mentee between the educator/facilitator and each participant, with these relationships continuing even after the group formally disbands.
This semester, Hillel Ontario is running four cohorts of JLF and seven cohorts of ILF, providing space for over a hundred students to participate. Notably, the number of applicants has skyrocketed compared to last year, with some campuses seeing more than double the number of applicants they had last year.
I’d love to say that this is all the result of our increasingly amazing outreach and recruitment efforts or stronger staff relationships with students. While those certainly are factors, it strikes me as an indicator of how deeply people are searching for and eager to find community. In an era where our social connections are cut or limited, Hillel Ontario’s learning fellowships offer students a chance to explore a topic in a social atmosphere and to cultivate a personal community that will last beyond the fellowship’s formal tenure.
Rabbi Seth Goren, Chief Education & Campus Officer