Hillel is There for Me: In Person or Online

by | Mar 30, 2020 | Hillel Ontario

Being alone and isolated in quarantine has been challenging and difficult for many. But no matter where they are – whether in person or online – Hillel will be there to support our Jewish students and provide a sense of community. For many, Hillel’s programming and engagement has been a light of hope and provided a sense of continuity even after the semester ended so abruptly.

Read below to hear how Jewish students in Ontario are coping with self-isolation and connecting with one another virtually during this time.

Guelph Hillel

Hillel at home has been central to my COVID-19 isolation! Whenever I am bored or need friendly faces to speak to, there is always some sort of “event” or zoom chat going on to brighten my day.Jessica Pink

As difficult as it is to have a sudden abrupt ending to the school year, Hillel has been the one thing constant in my life. Despite the physical isolation, the social togetherness is present. Through zoom calls to catch up with friends, movie nights, book club and more, the feeling of the Hillel community remains present. I am grateful for the Hillel community and for trying to create a sense of normality in these uncertain times. – Dana Aronowitz

The COVID-19 pandemic and concern about health and welfare has increased fear and anxiety. Engaging in community and social events has been an important aspect of my university experience. Through these trying times, Hillel has provided a positive connection through virtual gatherings that have encouraged camaraderie and collaboration that has deepened my spirituality.Sophia Cherniak

Hillel UofT

At first, I thought Talmud and Tea was not going to continue online; I initially wondered, who would want to study Talmud in their spare time when the entire world seems to be in flux? Yet, I got messages from friends asking me to teach; they wanted some continuity and Torah wisdom in their lives right now. I feel really blessed to be a part of this Hillel community where people voluntarily choose to make space for Torah, a Torah that is relevant to our current experiences. I hope we can have many more moments of togetherness in the near future.Sofia Freudenstein

Western Hillel

Even from home, Hillel’s online presence has encouraged me to continue exploring my own Jewish identity – from Instagram cooking tutorials to Facebook watch Havdalah services. Student leaders have also been there for me by reaching out to make sure I am doing well under these tough circumstances. Hillel’s support and implementation of new events have better helped me cope with self-isolating due to COVID-19.Jackson Posner

Hillel Ryerson

These past few weeks have not been easy, however, the Hillel staff have been amazing in coordinating online versions of the weekly activities we would be having if we were still on campus. They have even been gracious enough to have even more activities to bring us together like “virtual coffee hour” and multiple “virtual lunches in the loft”. I am extremely grateful for the Hillel staff and their motivation to engage us in these tough times. They have made my days much more eventful and enjoyable.Brandon Baum, 

Hillel has been a great light for me during these dark and hard times. After the suspension of all in person activities, the Hillel staff posted on social media to let us know that they will always be there for us to talk, and also created virtual events! This is something so meaningful for me, because it goes to show how much of an effort is coming from them to help our community.Nicky Polansky

Hillel York

It’s in uncertain times like these where I truly appreciate Hillel and the support and distraction it has given me as I’m stuck at home. Having something as simple as a zoom call with a staff member shows me that I have someone I can talk to. They also hosted an amazing “Coffee Home” on zoom with lots of other students. Hillel is providing me the ability to still connect with others while I am social distancing at home. Even though I miss seeing people face to face, I still feel a part of Hillel. I love how I get to interact with them online, whether it’s through their cooking videos, workout workshops, and even their March Madness Brackets competitions! They have given me something to look forward to during this difficult time and I couldn’t be more grateful!Leah Goldschmidt

Over the span of the last two weeks, Hillel has been running so many virtual programs which is really making this process not just easier but a lot more fun. The other night they held “Coffee Home”, a coffee house zoom event where we all shared a coffee and I got to watch all my talented friends perform. It is so fun to see everyone on, even if it is on zoom, we get to be together while we’re all stuck, quarantined in our own homes. Everything they are doing on Instagram is keeping me entertained during these boring weeks, like their cooking segments, workout tips, and Instagram activities we get to do! Hillel has really been active with students, making this whole situation so much more enjoyable for myself and my peers during this isolating time.Shira Gabriel

Hillel has provided me with a sense of community that I am missing during this period of physical isolation. With Instagram challenges, Instagrams stories, Zoom calls and even leading Instagram live dance classes, I am feeling that connection to community. Hillel is my happy place on campus and has been my happy place during this time.Ilana Lazar

Something New

Something New

The fall post-holiday period is always a good time for launching new things. To the extent we’re not completely exhausted, our five-day work weeks are back (instead of five days of work crammed into three-day weeks), and we’re able to get into something of a rhythm and build momentum in moving toward specific goals.

Adding to the sense of newness and adventure, the third post-holidays Torah portion of Lekh Lekha, which was read this past Shabbat, begins with Abraham receiving divine instructions to leave his home and begin a journey to a new land.  Commentators highlight the uncertainty inherent in the command’s wording: instead of being directed to a specific place, Abraham, at least initially, is told to go “to the land that I will show you,” a vague and undisclosed destination. While he is promised blessings galore for his obedience, setting out requires an element of faith and quite a bit of trust as he leaves his home land and father’s house for somewhere new.

While it’s certainly several orders of magnitude smaller than the journey Abraham undertook, Hillel Ontario is trying something new this week: we’re introducing a new section to our regular newsletters and will be including a d’var Torah to showcase our students’ and staff’s skills and present our readers with a bit of Jewish learning. We hope you’ll find these commentaries inspiring and meaningful and that they’ll provide a glimpse of the Hillel Ontario community that spans our nine campuses.

A Message from Hillel Ontario’s Student Presidents

A Message from Hillel Ontario’s Student Presidents

Dear students, parents, supporters, and other members of the Ontario Jewish community,

We are writing to you as the Hillel presidents representing nine universities across Ontario. 

We are often asked what it’s like to be a Jewish student on campus. And, in previous years, we would have taken a more upbeat approach to answering that question. The truth is that things have changed over the past 5 months.

Prior to this spring’s war in Israel, we had never experienced the level of vitriol and backlash that we did recently. We were caught off guard. Many Jewish students lost friendships and severed connections that had been created over many years. Our mental health was stretched to the limit; we have felt burnt out, isolated and anxious.  Even now, with autumn upon us, we are still feeling the exhausting effects of a summer spent advocating for the well-being of our fellow Jewish students. 

Walking back onto campus this week, it was difficult to see some students obviously (and understandably) anxious – both because of the pandemic, and because of the antisemitism Jewish students have experienced over the past several months. At the same time, we also feel more empowered than ever to proclaim pride in our Jewish identity, bolstered by the tremendous support we have felt from across the community.  

Whether you are a first year student, a parent, a sibling, an alum, or simply a member of the community concerned about what seems like an endless barrage of attacks aimed at Jewish students on campus, we want to assure you that as Hillel presidents, we are deeply committed to our roles and responsibilities. We hear your concerns. And, we are proud to serve the current and future Jewish students we support.  

We are working to build relationships with student governments, clubs, interfaith groups, faculty, and administrators on each of our campuses. We continue to empower our peers to learn, to educate, and to advocate for the issues close to our hearts. And, we continue to provide a safe and welcoming community for Jewish students, both on and off campus. 

We also seek to increase resources and staff available to our students so that no one feels unsupported or ill-prepared. We want Jewish students to feel like they can be their entire selves without having to hide a Magen David or avoid conversations about Judaism, Zionism or Israel. 

As we move into a new Jewish year and a new school year, we wish we could say with more certainty exactly what is to come in the next few months. However, it would be naive to do so. Instead, we would like to take this opportunity to commit to you that we will continue to have challenging, but necessary, dialogue with allies across campus. We will continue to support our peers when they feel uncomfortable. And, we will continue to ask for help when we need it. 

Time and time again, our collective history has proven that in a proud, empowered, and united community there is strength, and that from one another we can draw resilience. 

L’shana Haba on quieter, more inclusive campuses. 

Ariel Oren, Guelph Hillel
Evan Kanter, Hillel Student Leader Representative, Hillel UofT
Nathaniel Katz, Queen’s Hillel
Shira Miller, Hillel Laurier
Danielle Lebowitz, Hillel Waterloo
Hannah Silverman, McMaster Hillel
Jordan Goldenberg, Hillel Ryerson
Isabel Borisov, Western Hillel
Nicole Bodenstein, York Hillel

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