In Memory of my Teacher, Mentor and Role Model

by | Nov 13, 2020 | Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

Written by Rabbi Aaron Greenberg

I am sure many of you by now have heard of the tragic passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I have no doubt you have read about how he was a beacon  of morality to humanity, a confidante to state and religious leaders across the entire world. Perhaps you also read that his lectures, speeches, books and articles are filled with wisdom, brilliance and sophistication. While all that is true, I want to tell you about my personal interactions with him. 

I was first introduced to Rabbi Sacks’s writings twenty years ago, and I began purchasing each book he published the moment it was available. I was an avid reader of his books and articles, and I yearned to meet with him and engage him in conversation. This opportunity finally arrived in November of 2011. Hillel was co-partnering on a program to have the Chief Rabbi engage in conversation with one of the most well known Canadian intellectuals of the time, Prof Charles Taylor. 

Prior to the start of the event, I was pacing the halls of the theatre when I noticed the Chief Rabbi standing on the side alone! I found myself drawn to where he was standing, knowing full well that this could be the pivotal moment when I would finally be able to engage with my mentor, who was larger than life. Those of you that know me know that I am rarely at a loss for words, but I could not get out more than a pathetic whimper of “shalom”. The rabbi, sensing my nerves, asked me a series of questions and was excited to learn that I worked with students on campus as part of the OU-JLIC, a program that partners with Hillel. Finally, after a few moments, I asked him for some wisdom about working with students, and he looked at me with his piercing but loving eyes and said,  

‘You must make Torah Judaism relevant, meaningful, and real. Judaism is an ancient religion with modern and profound lessons. This needs to be taught and modeled. Be a proud Jew, be truthful to it but be humble to always learn from others. Be happy and smile. People will smile back.” 

Of course, he said it with more profundity and his very elegant British accent, but the message to me was crystal clear. I had a mission from which I dare not deviate, no matter what challenges awaited. Fast forward four and a half years. His office insisted he meet with the president of the university that morning and deliver a lecture to York faculty, but the highlight (his word, not mine) was to address students in the Zac Kaye Hillel lounge at York University to a packed crowd.  His message to the students was the message that he had told me years prior: that they should never stop learning and growing as Jews and as citizens of the world and to hearken (yes, he actually used that word) to the moral voice of the Jewish tradition. 

Rabbi Sacks had much more to accomplish. His website indicates numerous projects that he had initiated that are unfinished and in progress. It is our duty as his students, his moral heirs, to continue living by his creed, to continue to make Judaism relevant and meaningful. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife Lady Elaine, his children Joshua, Dina and Gila and his entire family at this difficult time. May we come together during these challenging times and become stronger, prouder and more committed Jews to truly honor his memory and continue his legacy.

“Wars are won with weapons but it takes ideas to win at peace” 

“Good leaders create followers, great leaders create leaders.” 

“Morality can no longer be predicated on the state, for we have become too diverse to allow a single morality to be legislated. Nor can it be located in the individual, for morality cannot be private in this way. We have neglected the third domain: that of community.”

Here is one of his most thoughtful videos: Why I am a Jew? 

Annamie Paul Joins Hillel Ontario

Annamie Paul Joins Hillel Ontario

Last month Hillel Ontario heard from Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada. After winning the leadership race back in October of 2020, Annamie became the first Black person and first Jewish woman to lead a federal Canadian political party. Since then, she has been speaking to Canadians all across the country, spreading messages of hope and inspiration, during a time where these moments are a rarity. No matter the political orientation of the Zoom attendees of this fireside chat, everyone walked away with a few life lessons up their sleeve.

Here are some of my biggest takeaways. First, Annamie spoke about following your passion, a message that I know many students needed to hear. When I graduated from grade 12, I was constantly asked where I saw myself in five years, ten years, and sometimes even twenty years. Although I was asked with the best intentions, I’ve always felt overwhelming pressure to envision a clear career path. Annamie dispelled this myth by referencing the enjoyment associated with the process of discovering your passion rather than having a final goal in mind, and Annamie’s enthusiasm for human rights through a policy lens has shaped the course of her life. Second, Annamie spoke about the importance of speaking up in the face of injustice. Whether you consider yourself an advocate or not, Annamie highlighted the need to follow your moral compass, never remaining complicit. Following Annamie’s time as the leader of the Green Party, it is clear that she isn’t afraid to use her voice and position to shine light on racism, antisemitism, and sexism. These are two lessons I think everyone can learn from.

Annamie spoke about growing up in Toronto Centre (the riding where she will be running in the next federal election), her career as an international lawyer, and her decision to enter politics. As someone who doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional politician, Annamie referenced about the challenges that she’s faced as a Black, Jewish woman. Racism, antisemitism, and sexism were all constant throughout her leadership campaign, and her six months leading the Green Party. 

Throughout Annamie’s talk, I learned about the importance of elevating voices that have previously gone unheard. In a predominantly white space, Hillel students and staff need to work hard to ensure that Jews of Colour feel welcomed. 

After 45 minutes, the latter half of which consisted of an insightful Q&A, Annamie mentioned that she would love to be invited back to another Hillel Ontario fireside chat. For now, I’ll take Annamie’s lessons with me while looking forward to hearing about all of her accomplishments in a year from now.

  • Skylar Banks, Guelph Hillel
Collaboration Breeds Diversity and Inclusion

Collaboration Breeds Diversity and Inclusion

Collaborating with other student organizations allows us to diversify the students at our events, build coalitions, establish good rapport with other student groups and broaden the topics of the content that we deliver. 

This past month, we had the privilege of working with the Waterloo and Laurier chapters of Menstruation Redefined, which is committed to helping with the “institutional and social barriers surrounding menstruation that risk the health, well-being, and daily lives of many.” This mission resonated with us at Hillel because we understand the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion for all. These are values that we hold as Jews, and want to embody at Hillel. 

We joined forces to produce a fun evening of trivia and learning. The event allowed us to reach new students, educate others on Jewish practice for those who menstruate, and learn more about Menstruation Redefined’s mission. Collaborative events like this allow us to understand key issues and causes that other student-run campus groups advocate for and to build strong allyships and ensure that we propel Hillel’s values forward, such as inclusion and equity.

Jessica Bloom, HIllel Waterloo Student President
Veronica Grad, Hillel Laurier Student President

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