Dear First Year Me

by | May 1, 2018 | Jewish Life at UofT | 0 comments

Written by Rob Nagus

Dear First Year Me,

I know you are both simultaneously excited and nervous- it’s finally about to happen. You’ve heard from friends and siblings, you’ve watched all the classic college movies, you’ve dreamed of this for years and now it is finally here. You are off to university. Take a second, breathe, and consider the following advice from yourself in the future. Let the following suggestions inform you on this amazing journey.

  1. Don’t skip Frosh Week. Yes, an extra week of summer sounds good, but in reality you are going to miss out on a fundamental university experience and you will start off one step behind your peers. All the clubs are there. All the signature cheers and campus traditions are on display. There are people handing out free food and excited to tell you all about the things they are into. You will meet people, find out which extracurriculars sound cool, and get a decent layout of the actual campus. Do not miss it!
  2. Get involved soon! Don’t wait to pick your activities- be adventurous, try new things and go for it. Get that campus radio show by volunteering at the station, start writing stuff and submitting it to the newspaper, get involved in student government. If you don’t like it, you can try something else. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know.
  3. Talk to professors. Do not be scared of them. Most professors actually want to engage with students. If you show genuine interest in the material, they will most likely show genuine interest in you. If you really want to make the most of your educational opportunities, get to know your professors and it’ll help you tremendously.
  4. Know where to find help. Listen, there will be moments that are hard. That is true of anything worthwhile. You will get stressed once in a while. You will be overwhelmed at some point but you must know you are not alone. Everyone goes through this and there is a lot of support if you know where to look. Academic advisors, mental health professionals, career coaching, Hillel professionals with a listening ear- it is all available to you on campus. Do your homework, find out what is out there and don’t be scared to use it.
  5. Go to Hillel. As you explore the epic diversity of university life, meet new people, and learn about new traditions and cultures, don’t forget to engage and share your own! University is a place where we all learn and share with each other. Hillel can help you do that. Also, you need to eat proper food, so do yourself a favour and go to a shabbat dinner every once in a while.

Work hard, stay safe and have fun. These are going to be some of the best years of your life, so do it right and enjoy them as much as you can.

Yourself (in the future)

Stronger Together!

Stronger Together!

Over this past Family Day Weekend, I spent a lot of time reflecting both about the challenges we face, but also about the incredible strength and resiliency of this community. Jewish students are often at the forefront of hate and discrimination on campus and online, but we are at our most powerful – and most effective – when we work together as one.

With that in mind, I want to provide several important advocacy updates.

First, I am excited to share that Hillel Ontario has begun convening meetings to coordinate advocacy initiatives amongst Jewish campus organizations across the country. The time has come for Hillel Ontario to lead the way in encouraging cooperation to accomplish the goals we collectively share. Joining us in these monthly discussions are Hillel Montreal, Hillel BC, Hillel Ottawa, CJPAC, Hasbara Fellowships and StandWithUs. We appreciate their willingness to engage with us in these important conversations.

Second, I want to update you on the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) matter that galvanized much community discussion last week. In addition to endorsing a motion to divest from companies doing business in Israel, the union misrepresented the recently released report of the Antisemitism Working Group and its approach to what does or does not constitute antisemitism. Hillel views these type of divestment motions as part of a wider issue of antisemitism on campus, and we have made that point clearly and consistently to university leadership and members of the Working Group for the better part of the past year.

Late Friday, Working Group members released an important statement, which both criticized the rhetoric of union leaders, and vindicated our belief that hate speech directed at Israel, Israelis or Jews based on actions (real or imagined) of the Israeli government is antisemitism. This is an important moment; one that underscores why our approach to these issues, and the allies we foster across campus are so critical. While we may not be able to stop every divestment motion from passing, we can – and we will continue to – have our voices heard by university leadership to ensure antisemitism remains on the margins. This is precisely what happened last week at the UofT.

Jewish students deserve to study, live and socialize in an environment free from harassment and discrimination. Hillel will continue to condemn antisemitism, defend Israel and our right to self-determination, and build essential relationships on campus to secure the well-being of the students we so proudly serve.

And, we will do so in concert with our allies; because we believe we are stronger together.


Jay Solomon
Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer

Parshat Vayeshev

Parshat Vayeshev

In this week’s parsha, Vayeshev, Jacob’s familial conflicts continue in future generations with the stories of Joseph and Tamar. For Joseph, this is a sequence of seemingly disastrous events through which G-d’s favor continues to protect him. Of Jacob’s thirteen children, Joseph was his most cherished, and he makes this quite clear to his other sons. Between this and Joseph’s talent for interpreting dreams that seem to show him ruling over his brothers, they grow increasingly jealous and wary of him, eventually leading to them selling him for twenty pieces of silver. Joseph continues to be favored by G-d in Egypt and is successful both in the household where he works and even after being thrown into prison, falsely accused by his master’s wife after he rejects her advances. In prison, he continues interpreting dreams including that of the Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer, and asks him to speak favorably to the Pharaoh after being freed from prison. While Joseph faces continued struggles in this parsha from both his family and community, his hard work and service to those around him is rewarded by G-d even as he is met with ongoing injustices.

The secondary narrative of Vayeshev is of Tamar, Jacob’s grand-daughter in law, who also receives a series of familial catastrophes. Tamar is the wife of Er, son of Judah, son of Jacob. When Er dies, and leaves Tamar childless, the proper protocol of yibbum, where a brother-in-law is meant to marry the wife of his deceased brother, is not carried out by Judah’s son Onan. Therefore G-d kills Onan as well. Fearing the death of his third son, Shelah, Judah delays the possibility of Tamar’s marriage to him, and she is left in limbo for years. Without anyone to marry Tamar and provide her with the expected familial and socioeconomic support she should be entitled to, she is stuck as a childless widow and unable to move on. With this in mind, she takes action by carrying out a deception of Judah to become pregnant by him, posing as a sex worker and disguising herself with a veil. When it becomes clear she is pregnant, the townspeople, including Judah, label her a harlot and call for her death until she proves that Judah was the father and that he refused her the proper marriage to Shelah. Tamar’s endeavors lead to her birthing twins, successfully reasserting her lineage and status, and her deception is praised, both outspokenly by Judah and implicitly by the text, when it is revealed that she is “righteous” and not a “harlot”. 

This week’s parsha is centered around justice and accountability. In a world where women have little agency and recourse over their socioeconomic status or family status, where men can be legally enslaved and imprisoned without trial, where the voices of the powerful are taken more seriously than the words of the oppressed, Tamar and Joseph act resourcefully and with G-d’s favor are able to seek a better outcome for themselves despite the extremely difficult situations that they find themselves in. We too can be inspired by Tamar and Joseph’s courage in our daily lives as we face systems of oppression or work as allies – for women’s rights, anti-carceral justice, anti-poverty work, an end to family violence and more. And we can also learn from Judah’s ability to admit when he was wrong, recanting his callous words against her and praising Tamar for her righteousness, as a tzaddikah. The ability to do better, to learn and grow, and to support our communities is always available to us, no matter what point we are coming from. Parsha Vayeshev may show some of the worst traits of familial rivalry and letdowns, but it also provides us with exceptionally courageous figures we can look to.

Written by Nelson Morgan