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? 

Nature vs. Nurture, and Nate Deserves Our Anger

Nature vs. Nurture, and Nate Deserves Our Anger

Weekly D’var: Toldot 5782 by Scott Goldstein

[Warning: Ted Lasso show spoiler] I just finished watching the second season of Ted Lasso, and I cannot get the image of the finale out of my head. Haven’t seen it yet? That’s ok, I’ll recap part of this week’s Torah portion as you go catch up and then tie it in at the end for when you get back.

When not detailing the intricate politics of well-digging and water rights, this week’s Torah portion takes some time to highlight our favourite biblical twins – Jacob and Esav (a.k.a. Esau). Some may even refer to this as the first twin study on “Nature vs. Nurture” (shoutout to my psychology peeps) ever recorded. We are presented with brothers that were raised in the same environment but turned out to be polar opposites. I’ll let you read the riveting stories of birthright transactions and elaborate deceptions on your own, but the narrative we are presented with is clear: Jacob is good, and Esav is bad. Here’s the problem I had with this narrative: If Esav was raised in a good environment, but still did bad things, then is the Torah telling us that our destiny is sealed by nature?

I just finished watching Ted Lasso, and I cannot help but think about how loveable Nate (played by Nick Mohammed) is a perfect example of what I think our Torah portion is trying to tell us. Ted Lasso (played masterfully by Jason Sudeikis) created a nurturing environment where Nate could grow from invisible kit manager to assistant coach that everyone loves. Despite all that, it comes down to the decisions Nate made to allow jealousy to influence his actions, leading him to leave Richmond FC and betray his teammates by joining West Ham United.

I think the story we read in the Torah is reminding us that both nature and nurture are really important (just as science does), but our decisions, ultimately, are our own. Whether it’s Esav going down in history as the ultimate example of bad decision-making or Nate likely being the reason we see Ted cry next season, the lesson is clear… be like Jacob because we can make good decisions no matter the circumstances.

Hillel International Student Cabinet 2021-2022

Hillel International Student Cabinet 2021-2022

Jordan Goldenberg, Ryerson University ‘23 and Leah Goldschmidt, York University ‘22, are representing Canadian Jewish students on Hillel International’s global stage. Here’s how they’re enhancing the Canadian Jewish campus experience for years to come:

This year I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate on  the Hillel International Student Cabinet, as one of two Canadian representatives. I am honoured to join the board of  22 students from the United States of America, Israel, Russia and Brazil. 

Over the years, I have been very active in Hillel at York University, and was thrilled when Hillel York’s staff approached me about the opportunity to bring my enthusiasm and passion for Hillel on an international scale. 

Hillel has always been a safe space for me — somewhere I could go to feel comfortable about my Jewish identity, but also a place where I could meet other Jews on campus; some who have become my best friends. Although I only recently joined the Student Cabinet, I can genuinely say I have met some of the most incredible students and staff who are so passionate about the Hillel movement.

I am constantly amazed by the work Hillel students are doing around the world to support and connect the next generation of our community.. We have members who have founded their own Hillels at colleges with barely any Jews, members who are advocates for the LGBTQ+ community and have launched successful international LGBTQ+ cohorts, and members who are doing tremendous work in combating antisemitism. Being around such passionate and motivating students has inspired me to go after my own aspirations within Hillel; creating space for Jews with disabilities. 

As a student with a disability, I am very passionate about expanding space for Jews with disabilities, and while Hillel has taken great strides to increase accessibility and inclusivity; there’s lots more we can do. Hillel has given me incredible resources and support to launch my own projects within this space.

I am thrilled to be representing Canada in this incredible opportunity, and am looking forward to the year ahead.

Leah Goldschmidt, Hillel York

My name is Jordan Goldenberg, and I am a third-year student at Ryerson University studying business management. I am also the President of Hillel Ryerson. The Cabinet is made up of students from around the world, working towards the common goal of engaging Jewish university and college students worldwide. The role of the Cabinet is to serve as a voice for Jewish students and a means of connection to the worldwide Hillel movement. Being part of the collective voice means everything to me, and I am excited to be that voice for Jewish students amplifying Canada and Hillel Ontario’s role on the global stage. 

At the beginning of October,  I had the opportunity to go to DC with the Hillel International Student Cabinet. It was an incredible experience to collaborate with and learn from a variety of leaders in the Jewish community and the Hillel movement. I learned so much from our two student co-chairs, fellow cabinet members and Hillel professionals. We had the chance to get to know the greater Hillel movement through meetings with staff members from various departments and positions within Hillel International; including, but not limited to, the communications teams, board members, the CEO, Adam Lehman, and many more. We spoke at great lengths about the role each of our local Hillels play on our campuses and what we can learn from one another. Since the summit, we have already hit the ground running, with many students taking on various projects at both the local and international levels. I learned so much about the global Hillel movement and how to be a better leader for Jewish students on campus and in the community.

I have always been passionate about bringing people together and there is no better way to do so than collaborating with Jewish students and Hillel’s internationally. This international collaboration allows us to share our common values while celebrating our differences in order to create the best Hillel atmosphere and programming possible.

Jordan Goldenberg, Hillel Ryerson

 

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