Jews of India

by | Feb 10, 2021 | Advocacy, Event, Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

On January 28th, I was proud to host a panel discussion on the history and culture of the Jewish communities of India with 40 guests and about 80 listeners. I was inspired to put the program together by the thoughtful Sephardi, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Bukhari and yes, Indian Jews on social media who advocate for their community’s representation within large Jewish institutions. 

For most of my life, ‘Jewish cultural programming’ has been synonymous with either Ashkenazi or Israeli culture, to the detriment of my understanding of our people’s beautiful diversity. Working at the University of Toronto Multi-Faith Centre, I realized I could use the platform I was responsible for to uplift these lesser-heard Jewish voices. I settled on Indian Jewry, as opposed to Ethiopian or Bukhari or Kai Feng Jews, out of interest in the origin story of their people: a ship fleeing war in Judea wrecks off the coast of Mumbai, where a dozen survivors reconstitute their culture in a strange land, isolated from world Jewry for hundreds of years.

We had four speakers. Dr Shalva Weil, a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Ann Samson, a historian and leader of Toronto’s Indian-Jewish synagogue; Judith Dworkin, an Indian Jewish educator raised in Toronto’s Indian-Jewish community and Director of McMaster Hillel; and Anna Rajagopal, a young Indian Jewish writer and activist from the United States, who is a prominent social media personality for Jews of Colour. 

The program was phenomenal. We had nearly 100 guests, and many questions for our speakers. All of the speakers enjoyed their time and are eager to come back for any future programs. It was equal parts fascinating and touching to hear these four people describe their relationships with ashkenormativity, diaspora, and most importantly, their own culture.

Jacob Kates Rose, Hillel UofT

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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