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