Living a Sweet New Year Every Day

by | Sep 27, 2019 | Hillel Ontario, Jewish Holiday | 0 comments

“L’Shana Tova!” These are words that we utter every autumn during the high holidays as we wish one another a sweet new year.

To me, this cozy, warm, inviting phrase is at the epicenter of the meaning of Rosh Hashanah. To wish one another a sweet new year is one of my favourite aspects of the holiday. But what does this actually look like in reality? There are so many ways in which we can embody “L’Shana Tova” today, and every day of the upcoming year:

  • Seeking out the activities, traditions, and food to which we  feel connected is one way to practice living the sweet life. For me, nothing screams “L’Shana Tova” more than when I am feeding my friends and family home-cooked meals. There is a lot of love to be found in sharing a meal together. This Rosh Hashanah, I am making my grandma’s recipe for Zwetschgnkuchen (a German plum cake that certain Ashkenazi Jewish families eat during Rosh Hashanah) which my family always has around the holidays. It is delicious, sweet, contains the practice of eating a new fruit of the season (a custom for some people during Rosh Hashanah), and says to those at the dinner table…. “Come, let’s eat, and experience the good things in life together!” As for how I am bringing this particular form of sweetness to my role at Hillel this year? If you ever see me at an event where food is served and I’m not trying to hand you a plate of food, you ought to be concerned! At Queen’s Hillel, I want us to bond over our shared interests and connections as we celebrate throughout the year.

 

  • Another way to create a sweet year is to recognize when our actions come from a place of kindness. Creating a sweeter year also means acknowledging when we have said something hurtful and “making right our wrongs”. I think I can speak for all of us in saying that we all have said or done something harmful at one point or another. It is a part of being human. Yet, by focusing on creating more sweetness in the world rather than on negative behaviours, we are embodying Jewish values.

 

  • For many of us, a sweet new year is embodied in the images of apples and honey. Seeing them on our tables can remind us that having a good core and inner voice is essential to how we share ourselves with the outside world. If we are not sweet on the inside, then even if we cover it up, it still won’t be appealing on the outside. I mean, we’ve all had that one apple that was way too tart or mushy, and no amount of honey could make it better! So taking stock and looking inwards allows for an outward projection of goodness. The beauty of Rosh Hashanah is that we are able to return again and again to our favourite foods, to symbolic motifs, and to the process of taking stock of ourselves and our lives… and how lucky are we?! It is a sweet blessing indeed.

At the close of 5779, and the start of 5780, let me be the first to wish you a happy, healthy, and sweet new year! I’d love to hear from you and how you aim to embody the ideas of L’Shana Tova in 5780!

Something New

Something New

The fall post-holiday period is always a good time for launching new things. To the extent we’re not completely exhausted, our five-day work weeks are back (instead of five days of work crammed into three-day weeks), and we’re able to get into something of a rhythm and build momentum in moving toward specific goals.

Adding to the sense of newness and adventure, the third post-holidays Torah portion of Lekh Lekha, which was read this past Shabbat, begins with Abraham receiving divine instructions to leave his home and begin a journey to a new land.  Commentators highlight the uncertainty inherent in the command’s wording: instead of being directed to a specific place, Abraham, at least initially, is told to go “to the land that I will show you,” a vague and undisclosed destination. While he is promised blessings galore for his obedience, setting out requires an element of faith and quite a bit of trust as he leaves his home land and father’s house for somewhere new.

While it’s certainly several orders of magnitude smaller than the journey Abraham undertook, Hillel Ontario is trying something new this week: we’re introducing a new section to our regular newsletters and will be including a d’var Torah to showcase our students’ and staff’s skills and present our readers with a bit of Jewish learning. We hope you’ll find these commentaries inspiring and meaningful and that they’ll provide a glimpse of the Hillel Ontario community that spans our nine campuses.

A Message from Hillel Ontario’s Student Presidents

A Message from Hillel Ontario’s Student Presidents

Dear students, parents, supporters, and other members of the Ontario Jewish community,

We are writing to you as the Hillel presidents representing nine universities across Ontario. 

We are often asked what it’s like to be a Jewish student on campus. And, in previous years, we would have taken a more upbeat approach to answering that question. The truth is that things have changed over the past 5 months.

Prior to this spring’s war in Israel, we had never experienced the level of vitriol and backlash that we did recently. We were caught off guard. Many Jewish students lost friendships and severed connections that had been created over many years. Our mental health was stretched to the limit; we have felt burnt out, isolated and anxious.  Even now, with autumn upon us, we are still feeling the exhausting effects of a summer spent advocating for the well-being of our fellow Jewish students. 

Walking back onto campus this week, it was difficult to see some students obviously (and understandably) anxious – both because of the pandemic, and because of the antisemitism Jewish students have experienced over the past several months. At the same time, we also feel more empowered than ever to proclaim pride in our Jewish identity, bolstered by the tremendous support we have felt from across the community.  

Whether you are a first year student, a parent, a sibling, an alum, or simply a member of the community concerned about what seems like an endless barrage of attacks aimed at Jewish students on campus, we want to assure you that as Hillel presidents, we are deeply committed to our roles and responsibilities. We hear your concerns. And, we are proud to serve the current and future Jewish students we support.  

We are working to build relationships with student governments, clubs, interfaith groups, faculty, and administrators on each of our campuses. We continue to empower our peers to learn, to educate, and to advocate for the issues close to our hearts. And, we continue to provide a safe and welcoming community for Jewish students, both on and off campus. 

We also seek to increase resources and staff available to our students so that no one feels unsupported or ill-prepared. We want Jewish students to feel like they can be their entire selves without having to hide a Magen David or avoid conversations about Judaism, Zionism or Israel. 

As we move into a new Jewish year and a new school year, we wish we could say with more certainty exactly what is to come in the next few months. However, it would be naive to do so. Instead, we would like to take this opportunity to commit to you that we will continue to have challenging, but necessary, dialogue with allies across campus. We will continue to support our peers when they feel uncomfortable. And, we will continue to ask for help when we need it. 

Time and time again, our collective history has proven that in a proud, empowered, and united community there is strength, and that from one another we can draw resilience. 

L’shana Haba on quieter, more inclusive campuses. 

Ariel Oren, Guelph Hillel
Evan Kanter, Hillel Student Leader Representative, Hillel UofT
Nathaniel Katz, Queen’s Hillel
Shira Miller, Hillel Laurier
Danielle Lebowitz, Hillel Waterloo
Hannah Silverman, McMaster Hillel
Jordan Goldenberg, Hillel Ryerson
Isabel Borisov, Western Hillel
Nicole Bodenstein, York Hillel

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