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

Fall Semester Student Survey Results

Fall Semester Student Survey Results

Undergraduate and graduate students completed our survey this month to let us know how we can best support them in the very unique, upcoming academic year. Here’s what we found:

Total respondents: 458
Total respondents by academic year:

Most schools have said they will have a “hybrid” model of learning in the Fall. Where will our students be living?

If Hillel was to offer any in-person opportunities, here are the top precautions that would make students feel most comfortable participating:

    • Enhanced cleaning of all spaces
    • Providing hand sanitizer
    • Ensuring that physical distancing is maintained
    • Limiting the number of people according to the provincial gathering restriction at any given time
    • Completing a sign-in list for the purposes of contact tracing

Students’ greatest fears for the upcoming year:

    • Uncertainty about the quality of an online educational environment
    • Feeling isolated from my friends/community
    • Zoom fatigue

Top 5 programs and interests that our students are most interested in for the upcoming year:

    • Holocaust Education
    • Social Events
    • Volunteering Opportunities
    • Israel
    • Mental Health & Wellness

What else can Hillel do to support Jewish students across the province?

    • Hybrid of virtual and in-person programming
    • Checking in with students
    • Keeping students in the loop when Hillel doors plan to open
    • More support for mental health, including more in-person events (if possible), webinars with mental health professionals, fun programming to look forward to.
    • Casual social events to replicate the feeling of being in Hillel spaces
    • Ensuing first-year students find connections, even virtually
    • Providing a sense of community, fun, and normalcy during this time
No Silence on Race – Hillel Ontario Statement of Support

No Silence on Race – Hillel Ontario Statement of Support

Hillel Ontario is proud to be a signatory to No Silence on Race. We endorse the letter’s aims of dismantling racism in Jewish communities and welcome its outline of nine pillars as a guide for our efforts.

Our organizational vision is an Ontario where every Jewish student is inspired to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. Hillel Ontario takes the word “every” seriously; our vision demands virtual and physical spaces that intentionally welcome Black, Mizrachi, Sefardi, and Indigenous Jews and Jews of Colour and celebrate all Jewish identities. Indeed, the Hillel Ontario we envision is based in a community that enthusiastically reflects a full spectrum of Jewish diversity.

We acknowledge both that we have work to do in this area and the importance of committing to concrete action. Inspired by No Silence on Race, we commit to the following:

  • Adopting a listening posture so we can better understand the experiences of BIPOC, Mizrachi, and Sefardi Jews;
  • Inviting, but not requiring, the BIPOC individuals among our staff, lay leadership, and students to be part of our efforts to learn and grow as an organization;
  • Examining recruitment and hiring practices to bolster BIPOC representation among staff (including campus and organizational leadership) and lay leaders;
  • Launching educational content, training, and learning for staff, students, and other stakeholders on issues of racial justice, implicit bias, power, and privilege, among other topics;
  • Strengthening and leveraging our relationships with campus diversity offices to provide training for our students and staff and to better serve as allies to all BIPOC members of our campus communities;
  • Recognizing the emotional labour that goes into BIPOC individuals contributing to our organization’s betterment and ensuring that they are appropriately compensated;
  • Redoubling our efforts to enhance programming for and about BIPOC Jews;
  • Reaching out to other Jewish organizations engaging in their own efforts in this sphere with an eye toward convening representatives and forming a collaborative working group for mutual support, direction, and accountability;
  • Developing a multi-faceted plan for cultivating diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism; and
  • Exploring the best way to advance this work internally and hold ourselves accountable, including the possibility of assembling a Hillel Ontario task force to learn about, investigate, and respond to racial injustice, implicit bias, power, and privilege.

The tenth century midrash Tanna Debei Eliezer cites G-d as asking and directing the Jewish people in part, “My children, there is nothing I lack that you could provide me. What do I ask of you? Only that you love each other, respect each other, and have reverence for each other.” In seeking to create a more welcoming, inclusive, and equitable Jewish community, we embrace the sentiment behind No Silence on Race and look forward to future progress toward a truer expression of klal yisrael, the unity of the entire Jewish people.

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