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

Hillel Ontario’s Remarks at Canada’s National Summit on Antisemitism

Hillel Ontario’s Remarks at Canada’s National Summit on Antisemitism

Today, the Government of Canada held a National Summit on Antisemitism.

Convened by The Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, and The Honourable Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, today’s Summit sought to provide parliamentarians and policymakers a comprehensive understanding of antisemitism in Canada, and identify concrete steps to address the issues facing the Jewish community.

Below is the full transcript of Hillel Ontario’s testimony.

Good afternoon, 

My name is Jay Solomon, and I am the Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer for Hillel Ontario. 

Supporting approximately 14,000 Jewish students at nine universities across the province, Hillel Ontario – now the largest Hillel in the world – empowers students to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning, and Israel.

This spring, Israel and Hamas – labelled a terrorist group around the world, including in Canada – squared off in the largest military conflict the region has experienced in some years. For both Israelis and Palestinians, the fighting was painful and distressing. 

In the wake of these tensions, around the world, and certainly here in Canada, supporters of Israel have been subjected to vile and sometimes violent vitriol. And, even more concerning, Diaspora Jews have been attacked – verbally and physically, online and in person – simply for being Jewish and regardless of their feelings about or connection to Israel.

As an illustration, I thought I would share just a few recent examples of some of what Jewish students have been subjected to on campuses in Canada in the past few months. At Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, a student posted a video on social media mocking the stabbing of Israelis. Near Western University, in London, a Nazi flag appeared at an anti-Israel rally. At McMaster University in Hamilton, a Jewish student was bullied online for showing support to Israel. And, on the personal social media pages of countless Jewish students across the province, blue squares and other expressions of concern about antisemitism were peppered with comments condemning Israel, levelling personal attacks at the students who posted them, and, in some, threatening physical violence. 

And then there’s the issues posed by student unions and faculty associations who in many cases have replaced informed debate and well-meaning dialogue – the cornerstones of university education – with one-sided rhetoric condensed to 20 second videos and 140-character tweets in an attempt to boil hundreds of years of culture and history into soundbites that are inevitably biased and simplistic. As a recent example, a student group at Western University published incredibly offensive social media commentary calling on the University Student Council to eliminate “all pro-Zionist narrative” from the campus. Another illustrative example involves the President of the University of Toronto Faculty Association who is alleged to have spoken about an “entitled powerful Zionist minority” at a recent academic panel.

These, and other, recent examples of antisemitism are as disturbing as they are unacceptable. Year over year, the Jewish community is the most targeted religious minority for hate crimes in Canada. And, these recent incidents underscore the important efforts that lay ahead – work that must include critical education on antisemitism, and a renewed commitment to relationship-building based on shared values and experiences. 

What many in the Jewish community have known for some time, but have been reluctant to say out loud, has become entirely self-evident in the past several months. We have long since recognized that antisemitism exists on a broad continuum, ranging from those who are simply uninformed, to those who are misinformed, to those who are wilfully ignorant. 

But, there’s another category; and it is one that has been taboo to speak of in many circles for too long. 

The unpopular reality is that some of the world’s worst antisemites (who, it just so happens, are among Israel’s most virulent detractors) embrace this label with malice and intentionality. And it is this type of poisonous, malevolent antisemitism that has been on full display recently. 

As the largest affiliate of the global Jewish student movement, Hillel Ontario’s student leadership and campus professionals have been working around-the-clock to support students who have been shaken by a tsunami of antisemitism online and on campus. 

We have communicated directly with university presidents, provosts, and student union leaders to ensure Jewish students were protected, and that their rights would be respected. We lodged official student code of conduct complaints and filed police reports when Jewish students were targeted; reported countless antisemitic posts on social media; provided personalized pastoral counselling; compiled educational resources and offered learning opportunities for those wanting to learn more; and provided space for students to process their own feelings, emotions and perspectives.

But, the truth is, our efforts on campus alone are not enough. And, we need your help. 

We need our nation’s leaders to come together to forcefully, consistently, and unconditionally condemn antisemitism – in all its forms – and to take proactive steps to secure the safety and security of the Jewish community of Canada, today and for the years to come.

We need formalized learning opportunities across the educational sector – for teachers, professors, administrators, equity officers, student government leaders and those charged with securing and protecting the campus community – to ensure historical and modern perspectives on antisemitism’s manifestations, as well as ways to combat them, are entrenched in and integrated into diversity, equity and inclusion and anti-oppression programming. Education on the perils of antisemitism must become a natural part of DEI and anti-oppression efforts on university campuses.

As a society, we must publicly acknowledge the overlap between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and recognize that, far too often, anti-Zionism is used as a convenient shield behind which antisemites stand. 

As advocates for the Jewish community, we know that it is acceptable to criticize Israeli policies, or voice legitimate concerns for the welfare of Palestinians. Like any other liberal democracy, Israel is not immune from legitimate criticism. 

But, we also know that fair-game critiques end when Jews are denied the universally held right to collective self-determination; when Jews are held collectively responsible for the actions of the Israeli government; when antisemitic tropes dating back centuries are used to target Jews and Jewish communal institutions; or when comparisons are drawn between Israel and the horrors of the Holocaust. 

We need Canadian leaders to stand with the overwhelming majority of Jewish Canadians in a definition of antisemitism that includes the delegitimization of the Jewish state. Like any other minority group, the Jewish community’s definition of our oppression should be defined by the majority of our community, not fringe elements within it or outside of it. 

We need our nation’s leaders to counter efforts to promote the divisive and discriminatory Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign against Israel, and work to promote dialogue and relationship-building opportunities based upon shared values. 

On behalf of Hillel Ontario, our students, professional staff and lay leadership, I want to offer my sincere thanks to the Government of Canada for convening this National Summit on Antisemitism, and for inviting me to participate in today’s proceedings. 

In the days and weeks ahead, Hillel Ontario stands ready to support the important work that lies ahead; to work in conjunction with the federal, provincial and municipal governments, and with university leadership, to support Jewish students in the ongoing fight against antisemitism. 

Thank you.

A Hillel Summer: Keeping Spirits High

My name is Stacey Ianco and I am going into my third year at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management. Hillel has been my home away from home, and has helped me embrace my Jewish culture, enhance my Jewish identity, and meet new people.. 

This year has been like no other we have experienced. Throughout these challenging times, I have felt lucky to have remained connected with my fellow students – especially through my involvement in Hillel. 

Especially given the year we just experienced, Hillel has been vital to my Jewish campus life. That’s why I was so excited to hear that Hillel programming was going to continue during the summer.

Hillels Ryerson, York and UofT teamed up to create the Summer in the 6ix program, and I knew I wanted to participate. 

In addition to receiving some really cool swag, Summer in the 6ix connected me with activities and programming I

 could engage in alongside (virtually) other Jewish students across the GTA. We baked and decorated delicious sugar cookies over a Hillel Zoom meet, sharpened our knowledge and competed with other Hillel students in bi-weekly trivia games, and customized our Hillel t-shirts with tie-dye. In a summer characterized by distancing and separation, Hillel brought me closer to my community.

To be sure, this has been a difficult year for so many reasons. I am so appreciative of all that Hillel does for Jewish students across the province. Especially this year.

I will continue to be an active member of Hillel for all my years of university and the future. Hillel has given me the confidence I need to be a proud Jewish woman and has enhanced my university experience in many ways. 

I look forward to being able to create more special events to include and connect every Jewish student in Ontario for many years to come.

Stacey I., Hillel Ryerson Student Leader

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