Hillel is a Home Away From Home

by | Jun 3, 2021 | Advocacy, Hillel Ontario, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Even before our oldest daughter, Sarah Springer, joined Queen’s Hillel, Hillel was a big part of our lives.  Jewish students taught our children at Bader Elkin Talmud Torah, attended High Holy Day services at Beth Israel, and participated in joint community programming. Many Kingston families provided students a Jewish ‘home away from home’.

Fast forward to today, we find ourselves ever so grateful that our youth can turn to director Yos and educator Leora Tarshish – in both good and bad times – to find their ‘home’ at Queen’s Hillel. As parents, we have seen how welcoming and caring Yos and Leora are, providing strong leadership, intelligence and insight to Jewish students.  They exude enthusiasm and rare humility, taking great pride in watching their young leaders blossom.  Particularly during this pandemic, while many are only at Queen’s virtually, Queen’s Hillel has provided a continued sense of connection to and pride in Judaism and Israel. However, despite phenomenal accomplishments, no one could have been prepared for the heart-wrenching hostilities in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the eruption of propaganda on social media, and the fall-out to Jews around the globe, particularly amongst our youth.  

Specifically at Queen’s, the Queen’s Journal took a hard stance against Zionism, in support of BDS and hijacking student fees to that end. Yos and the Queen’s Hillel executive, including Sarah, co-President Nathaniel Katz, and VP Advocacy Rafi Matchen, were able to respond in real-time, 24/7.  Equally important, they were able to support Jewish students who were feeling ostracized and alone by the online bullying, misinformation, hyperbole, and lack of context, from friends and strangers alike. 

Like most diasporic Jews, we love to visit Israel and pray for peace during its many conflicts. Yet, this fight felt different.  For the first time standing up for Zionism – merely advocating for and underscoring the right to a Jewish homeland – became our children’s fight. Hate against Jewish people is unfortunately not foreign to our children. But targeted hate and friends posting anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment was a new low. 

While they were experiencing this themselves, Yos and Leora remained a rock for the students, a sounding board, and a perfect mix of optimism, pragmatism, and compassion. Michael and I wholeheartedly share these words with great emotion…and with no hyperbole. We feel so incredibly blessed to have the Hillel mishpacha (family) there for our Jewish children at this difficult time, whether it is at Queen’s or at another university or college campus. We also know that the dynamic and talented duo Leora and Yos – and the rest of the Hillel Ontario team – will be there with open arms for all the creative and meaningful times ahead. 

Yes, “Jews in Canoes” really happened during Covid-19! Whether it is paddling through the Cataraqui River or meandering through more challenging waters, we trust that Queen’s Hillel and Hillel Ontario will continue to be a lifeline to our Jewish students.  

Melissa Greenberg & Michael Springer
Parents of Sarah Springer, co-President at Queen’s Hillel

 

 

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023

In their research on listening to survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides, Bronwen E. Low and Emmanuelle Sonntag note listeners’ problematic tendencies towards one of two responses.  On the one hand, they can regard the narratives as so unfamiliar and foreign that they must be pushed away as overwhelming, untouchable, and inaccessible.  On the other, the stories can be seen as familiar, to the point that the listener cannot separate their own experiences and emotional response from what they take in.

But another, preferable response exists: Roger I. Simon and Claudia Eppert talk about a “chain of testimony” and suggest that listening imposes a duty on the listener.  Listening to personal testimony at the crossroads of memory and history “imposes particular obligations on those called to receive it – obligations imbued with the exigencies of justice, compassion, and hope that define the horizon for a world yet to be realized.”  In this way, bearing witness and listening to testimony demands a number of actions and responses, including that we “transport and translate stories of past injustices beyond their moment of telling by taking these stories to another time and space where they become available to be heard or seen.”

If we take Simon and Eppert’s charge seriously, as I believe we should, those of us who have been privileged to hear the direct testimony of survivors of the Holocaust.  Their words come not just with the specific knowledge they impart or the emotional impact they have on us – sorrow, anger, fear, horror – but with a duty, an obligation of some kind.  

On many of our campuses, this week is Holocaust Education Week, and this Friday marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Given the significant number of Holocaust survivors and their descendants in Canada, the scheduled events and programs have a personal resonance for many of our students and their families, but their impact can be deep and meaningful for all of us, regardless of who we are and where we come from.  I encourage each of you to make time to participate in this week’s activities and to consider your place in the chain of testimony: what obligation does listening to narratives from the Holocaust place on you, and how do you carry those stories forward in time?

 

Weekly D’var: Shemot

Weekly D’var: Shemot

In this week’s parashah we learn the story of Moses, from his birth, through his flight from and eventual return to Egypt, to the acceptance of his role as leader of the Hebrew people.

After fleeing Egypt, for killing an Egyptian slave master, Moses was living rather peacefully as a shepherd in the land of Midian. The Torah describes for us Moses’s first interaction with G-d upon coming across a bush, “burning with a heart of fire [Exodus 3:3]”. G-d calls out to Moses and requests he take the Jewish people out of Egypt and eventually into the land of Israel. However, Moses argues with G-d, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? Who am I that I should take the Jews out of Egypt? [Exodus 3:11]” After initially refusing four times, Moses eventually agrees to G-ds request, and as we know, the rest is history. But why was Moses so unwilling to take up the position of leader, to the extent that he would argue with G-d? And why was G-d so set on having Moses lead the Jewish people? 

Perhaps the answer can be found through the incident that led to his flight from Egypt, years earlier, when Moses, as mentioned above, killed an Egyptian slave master for beating a Hebrew slave. Immediately, he was met with opposition from some of the Hebrew slaves, “who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian? [Exodus 2:14]” Moses felt discouraged and unsure of his ability to lead. However, it seems that G-d saw in Moses, a faithful shepherd, the ability to lead his people from slavery to freedom. Very often in Tanakh, the people that are most worthy to lead are the ones who deny that they are worthy at all. Moses may not appear to be the first choice for a leadership figure, suffering from a speech impediment and lacking charisma; however, Moses possessed certain qualities that made him the ideal leader to bring the Jewish people out of Egypt. We too possess qualities that can lead us to achieve incredible success and realize our full potential. We may often feel unmotivated or unsure of our own capabilities. Instead of feeling discouraged, I believe we can look to Moses who, despite all his doubts, stepped up to the challenge and became the greatest leader in Jewish history. 

Sam Virine
VP of Jewish Life at Hillel Waterloo & Laurier

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