Kosher Forward for 5780

by | Oct 18, 2019 | Jewish Life at UofT | 0 comments

Written By: Chaim Grafstein

The fall Jewish holidays are always a conflicting time for me on campus. Sometimes professors and staff can be very accommodating; sometimes they can miss the mark a little. Today, I wanted to highlight one positive moment from all the challenges and connect it to a project I am working on this year.

I’m in my third year of my Ph.D., so that means I can finally get some time away from course work for credit, but I found myself auditing a couple classes, nonetheless. The past two years have been a bit of a struggle to get through September and October, but this year, there was an unexpected breath of fresh air. It was the day after Yom Kippur, and I was trying to juggle a grant proposal, my research, and the classes I am auditing. I was sitting in class a few minutes before it started, stressed and frantically checking my email.  In the midst of this, my prof, who is not Jewish, walked in and asked me how Yom Kippur went, and suddenly I was surprised, relieved, and grateful all at once. It might sound like something small, but considering all the hoops I’ve had to jump through over the years, it was pretty great to feel like there was a prof who actually took into consideration my religious anxieties in addition to all the academic ones.

I’ve been on university campuses for a pretty long time, and I’ve faced a lot of challenges around being a Jew, from being told as an undergrad that I can’t join the Middle East Student Association because “[Jews] already have a club” at UofT (AKA: Hillel) to being constantly asked “is Kosher-style okay?” as a well-meaning attempt at accommodation. So, yes, a non-Jewish professor pro-actively asking about my holiday, knowing for sure it was a fast day, feels like a world of difference. He even followed up that he was using a calendar with all religious holidays to be extra accommodating in general!

This experience connects to the kosher food campaign, Kosher Forward, which I am leading along with Sophia Freudenstein. The University of Toronto dining services provides for vegan, gluten-free, Halal, and many other food needs. However, there is no Kosher food on campus. We are asking the University President to develop solutions to provide kosher food for students at UofT. Not everyone on campus is like this prof who went out of their way to be accommodating to me, but not everyone is trying to be difficult either – it’s mostly a challenge of folks just not knowing enough. I attended a dinner at the multi-faith centre a couple weeks back, and in speaking to some students from different religious groups on campus, most people just don’t know much about what Jewish life is like on campus. One of my peers even guessed that there had to be around 10,000 Jews in undergrad at UofT! When I explained that there were likely closer to 1000-1500, they were shocked, after all, they had around 1000 members in their campus group!

The Kosher Forward campaign stirs up a lot of hope for Jewish students at UofT. Every bit of accessibility we gain will be one less challenge to face on campus as a Jewish student. I’m hoping that this is just one step forward in building a better Jewish communal life on campus in the new year!

Mo‘adim LeSimcḥa!

My Four Years at Hillel

My Four Years at Hillel

One of my first memories as a UofT student was attending the annual Clubs Fair during Orientation Week. I knew UofT was a big school, but Clubs Fair showed me just how big it really was. All of Front Campus (UofT’s giant greenspace) was filled with representatives of every club you can possibly imagine eagerly trying to recruit nervous first years like me. I didn’t know where to start. As a Jewish high school graduate, I heard of Hillel and thought that it would be a good table to approach first.

Little did I know that my decision that day to take some free swag and add my name to a list would lead me to the warm and welcoming community that is Hillel UofT. Over the years, I joined the Frosh Committee, became a Hillel Student Leader, learned more about Judaism and Israel, and attended Shabbat dinners. I hosted a Lunch & Learn, facilitated an event with a bestselling author, took a day trip to Ottawa to eat lunch with the President of Israel, and ate countless Allen’s Table kosher dinners! Although these experiences were all really memorable, my favourite part of Hillel is actually not a formal event. My favourite part of Hillel was being able to walk into the Wolfond Centre at any time of day and immediately have someone to say hi to. On a campus as big as UofT, knowing that there was a place with friendly people (and lots of free food) who could listen to my complaints about my schoolwork made my time at UofT a lot better.

Like everything else, the pandemic has caused my Hillel experience in the past year to be very different, but Hillel’s warm and welcoming environment endured. Whether it was physically distanced hangouts in the park, weekly Talmud & Tea classes on Zoom, listening to interesting speakers, or just catching with our awesome Hillel staff, I was able to feel a part of the Hillel community even during these difficult times.

At UofT, your university experience ends exactly where it starts: on Front Campus. Twice a year, back when I would attend classes in person, I would see the giant white convocation tent that took up almost half the field. Although I am definitely sad that I won’t be at a ceremony in Convocation Hall and I’ll never get to see the inside of that tent, I am truly grateful for the university experience that I did get to have and for me, that experience would truly not have been the same if it wasn’t for Hillel.

  • David Polisuk, Hillel UofT
Purim!

Purim!

Hillels York, UofT and Ryerson

This past week, Hillels York, UofT and Ryerson, in partnership with JLIC, celebrated Purim together. As we all know, this year has been an especially unique year. Although there was no way to have a regular in-person Megilah reading and Purim party, Hillel got creative by organizing a drive-in Megilah reading! People dressed up, sat in their cars, and listened to Ben Shore (a fellow student at UofT) read the Megilah. Taking advantage of being in our cars, we honked at the sound of Haman’s name. At the end, everyone had the chance to get a shawarma laffa and later join a virtual game night over zoom. This Purim was definitely different, but one we won’t soon forget. Thank you to everyone who was able to make this Purim so special!

  • Hadar Wercberger, Hillel Ryerson

 

Queen’s Hillel

On Purim, Jews (of legal drinking age) are encouraged by the Talmud to drink until they do not know the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai”. With this in mind, one of the ways through which Queen’s Hillel celebrated Purim was to follow this custom. Following the lead of Dammara Kovnats Hall, the founder of Jewish Cocktails, students joined together over Zoom to create three delicious Purim-themed cocktails and mocktails. The drinks were based on ingredients that have traditionally been available during the time of Purim and were inspired by different aspects of the holiday. The drinks we made included the Shushan Sipper, the Hamentaschen Martini, and Masks and Mystery; a whisky and ginger beer-based drink that was my personal favourite.

A few days before, we delivered a basic mixology kit complete with mason jars, cocktail umbrellas, Hamentaschen, and an ingredient list to students. For me, part of what made the event so much fun was everyone laughing together over different substitutions that people were making if they did not have a specific ingredient or a tool to use when making their drinks. Through this event, we were able to successfully replicate the party atmosphere that Purim typically has. 

In a year where we’ve been forced to hold all of our events online, it can be difficult to plan an event online while ensuring that engagement is still high. With our Masks and Mixology event, we had no trouble at all! Purim is a holiday that is meant to be celebrated with others through giving out Mishloach Manot (gift baskets), dressing up, and getting together to listen to the reading of the Megilah. While Purim celebrations over the world certainly looked different this year, being able to celebrate over zoom through our mixology event allowed myself and many others to feel as though it was a regular celebration. Having had the opportunity to celebrate Purim and other holidays online, it’s provided a sense of normalcy in a year that has been anything but normal and has allowed students to get a sense of the Queen’s Hillel experience.

Dammara provided us with the opportunity to perfect our mixology skills while getting a chance to explore Judaism and the themes of Purim together. While it may not have been a traditional celebration of Purim, I know that I will be bringing these cocktail recipes with me to celebrate Purim next year.

  • Belinda Cantor, Queen’s Hillel

 

McMaster Hillel

It has become challenging to create engaging, exciting and meaningful virtual events during the lockdown. “Free Esther”, a Purim-themed escape room that was envisioned and constructed by the McMaster Hillel executive team, challenged participants to enter a maze of puzzles as Mordechai tries to free Esther, the female protagonist of the Purim story. Participants worked together and got to know each other as they worked to solve the puzzles that would lead to Esther.

This event was a huge success! We brought together Judaism, tradition and people in a fun and engaging activity. One participant mentioned that this had been “the best event I’ve been to all year!” (including all virtual experiences by any organization). 

Incredibly, community engagement is thriving at events like this, despite the pandemic. We hope that events like these will compel more people to get involved with Hillel and their community in the future. With that in mind, McMaster Hillel will hopefully return next year with more fun Purim-related adventures, perhaps an in-person escape room. We wish everyone a Chag Purim Sameach!

  • Andy Roth, McMaster Hillel

 

Guelph Hillel

It’s been tough to get into the Purim spirit this year while separated from friends and family, but Guelph Hillel came together to create a virtual Purim Murder Mystery event that brought the community together in a new and exciting way. The event on Tuesday, March 2nd, was preceded by a Purim-themed Shabbox delivery on Friday — Shabbat dinner was delivered to students across Guelph, along with extra goodies for the holiday, and Mishloach Manot (gift baskets) were sent out to students residing in Toronto. The interactive event on Tuesday event gave students the chance to interview characters from the Purim story — King Achashverosh, Queen Esther, Mordechai, Haman, Zeresh, and Shashgaz — to find out who killed Vashti in an exciting murder mystery plot! These characters were portrayed by student actors, who all worked incredibly hard to bring them life, and it was thoroughly entertaining chatting with each of them. Students participating were put into teams and got to interview each character twice before coming to a team verdict and voting on who they suspected the murderer was.

It was exciting to be teamed up with new people and work together to solve the puzzle, and a great opportunity to make new friends! Even after the event was officially over, most of the participants didn’t want to leave, and many stayed online to chat and hang out with new friends and old. It was wonderful to see people so engaged with this event and immediately forming connections with other members of the Guelph Hillel community. Though we all hope to be able to celebrate Purim in-person next year, this kind of innovative programming from Guelph Hillel made the holiday special despite challenging circumstances.

  • Alex Thomson, Guelph Hillel

The Guelph Hillel Murder Mystery was amazing!! I constantly found myself on the edge of my seat! It was incredibly interactive, and it rid me of my Zoom fatigue. Every student was invested in the program and in their given characters, which made the competitive atmosphere enjoyable and motivated me to win. It was so nice to meet and chat with new people and old friends, and make new connections on our new virtual world. This was by far the best event I have attended throughout the pandemic, and I am looking forward to a Passover murder mystery, perhaps who killed Pharaoh…

  • Debby Klachook, Guelph Hillel

 

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