Dear Hillel…Thank you

Dear Hillel…Thank you

Dear Queen’s Hillel,

I’ve had a lot of free time open up recently to reflect on my final year at Queen’s and, needless to say, it wasn’t how I visualized it back in September. This school year was definitely different from past years, but not only because of its abrupt pause or transition to online learning.

This year was different because I voluntarily spent a big chunk of my free time hanging out with you…and I’m really happy about that.

I gave you some of my time, but that doesn’t come close to what you’ve given me. Not only have you enhanced my Jewish life on campus, but you enhanced my university experience altogether, providing me with a community of amazing and passionate people that I get to call my friends.

From mishloach manot making to Israeli food baking (shout out to chef Benny), you gave me something to look forward to when I desperately needed a study break.

From the bottom of my heart I want to thank you but thanking only you just wouldn’t suffice. I’d like to thank the people who made your existence possible and kept you thriving. To Jemma and Jeff, it has been such a pleasure to work alongside you this school year. I watched you both pour your hearts and souls into your work, going above and beyond in your roles. I appreciate every small detail you put into the programs that made them run so flawlessly. You made the difficult tasks look effortless. To the entire executive team, I’ve loved every moment we’ve spent together, whether it was planning an event, partaking in an event or just schmoozing. Thank you for your constant love and encouragement.

Queen’s Hillel, I have learned a lot from you this year. Saying goodbye to you is difficult, but I know there are so many remarkable people who will continue to take good care of you. I am confident you are in good hands with the incoming cohort of students.

It’s been such a pleasure getting to know you. Don’t think of this as a goodbye, but rather a ‘see you later’, as I’ll definitely be back to visit.

With love,

Written By: Sarah Mandel

Holocaust Education Week: Reflections from Queen’s Hillel

Holocaust Education Week: Reflections from Queen’s Hillel

Queen’s Hillel hosted Holocaust Education Week that brought a variety of events to campus. One moment that stood out to me was during our 78 Years Later: A Conversation about Remembrance event, where two Holocaust Survivors, Reny Friedman and David Moskovic, shared their experiences at Queen’s University.

As I stood to the side of the room watching Mr. Moskovic and Mrs. Friedman individually share their experiences during the Shoah, I was touched to see how attentively the 50 people in the room (on the evening of a snowstorm, no less!) were listening.

During the last half of the evening both survivors were brought to the centre of the room to answer questions together, and their witty banter with one another stayed with me since then. The overwhelming response I received from students and community members in attendance was how moved they were by the experience and how unusual it was to see two Holocaust survivors in conversation with one another. A student explained to me afterwards that they hadn’t seen two survivors share the space like this before and that it felt different from other lecture series because of how they shared the floor together. Mr. Moskovic and Mrs. Friedman had very different experiences during the Holocaust but they were bound together in camaraderie having gone through an utterly horrific event and yet, both had managed to create meaningful lives after the Shoah.

In a time where it is becoming increasingly rare to have one, let alone two, Holocaust survivors in the room, I cannot help but feel that those of us lucky enough to be in attendance, were given an incredible gift of witnessing their stories. Being in the room with a Holocaust survivor means we are prioritizing space for them to share their experiences. We will be the last generation to say that we were in the presence of Holocaust survivors. Every time we step into such settings, we are bearing witness to history and become the new memory keepers. It is our burden and our privilege.

Holocaust Education Week on campus is a student driven initiative, as they lead the planning and strategy for the week. Members of our Hillel student executive board had personal ties to the two survivors who spoke and were instrumental in inviting them to Queen’s University. Students had the chance to shape the type of programming Queen’s Hillel brought to campus, giving our students ownership to offer Jewish experiences and learning to their peers.

Holocaust education is one way that Hillel Ontario is able to encourage university students to grapple with the past as a way to work towards a better future. It is my hope that with opportunities like this, students involved with Hillel will continue to carve out a space for themselves within the Jewish community, both at university and long after they leave school.

With initiatives like Holocaust Education Week on university campuses the past will never quite leave us, but nor should it, as what happened to us can inform how we go forth into the world. We carry the weight of telling our truths and our histories while also ensuring that “Never Again” is more than words; it is an action for Jewish and other marginalized people to work towards creating a better, kinder world, and our Hillel students will shape our Jewish future.

Written by: Jemma Kaczanowicz

Holocaust Education Week 2019: Keeping Survivors Memories Alive

Holocaust Education Week 2019: Keeping Survivors Memories Alive

Written by: Sarah Mandel 

Earlier this month, Queen’s Hillel hosted its annual Holocaust Education Week. This year, we were fortunate enough to have a total of three survivors visit our campus to share their stories. Being able to hear their testimonies first hand is such a privilege, and we are so thankful for the survivors who took the time to engage in meaningful conversation with students here at Queen’s.

The first to visit was Jochebed Katan, a child Holocaust survivor, who joined us for Shabbat dinner. Jochebed was born in Nazi-occupied Holland, where she was immediately given up to another family who hid her and kept her safe for the duration of the war. After sharing her story with us, Jochebed went on to speak about her important mission: defying hatred. She asked us to help her by accepting everyone for who they are, regardless of their gender, race, religion, sexuality and anything else that deems them “different”. Although anti-Semitism and hatred alike still exist, we must do everything we can to combat it. It was a beautiful way to spend Shabbat, commemorate the Shoah, and most importantly, honour Jochebed.

The following Monday, we were visited by Holocaust survivors, David Moskovic and Reny Friedman. David was taken to Auschwitz at just 14 years old. Not long after arriving, he was required to walk nearly 10 kilometers to a work camp called Buna, where he worked as a brick layer for nine months. He was then forced on a death march, where he marched for three days straight without breaks and food. After surviving this horrific march, David was taken to Buchenwald on a train so crammed he had to sit directly on top of another prisoner’s head. Each day in Buchenwald, the guards would take hundreds of prisoners past the camp gates, force them to dig their own graves, and shoot them. One day, they took David there and he knew if he passed through the gates, he would never return. David cleverly decided to drop to the ground and was able to escape his death, since the guards reached their quota of prisoners who passed through and sent the rest back. Despite the hardships he faced during the war, David now lives a happy life and always looks to help others, recently aiding a Syrian family in need.

Reny was a hidden child during the war. In 1942, the Underground placed Reny in a convent in France, where she lived for around two and a half years. She fit in nicely with the other Catholic girls and was kept safe. She was so comfortable there that when her father came to pick her up after liberation, she did not want to go with him. She did not recognize him, nor did she even speak the same language as him. After promising he would bring her back, she finally agreed to go with her father. It took many years for Reny to realize she was not a young Catholic girl anymore. Even to this day, she still has her cross and vows to never forget her time in the convent.

Reflecting back on this year’s Holocaust education week, I think about how my generation will be the last to have the luxury of hearing firsthand survivor testimonies. Given this reality, we must take on the role of sharing the stories we hear with generations to come and ensure these atrocities do not happen again.