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)

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