Meet Eliana Benia, Hillel UofT Student Leader

by | Sep 27, 2019 | Jewish Life at UofT | 0 comments

Written by Eliana Benia, Hillel Student Leader 

My name is Eliana and I am thrilled to be a Hillel student leader for the 2019/20 school year! In addition to kosher dinners, snacks and free printing, Hillel provides a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone who walks through its doors. It is a place to come and relax, hang out, meet new friends and interact with like-minded individuals who all have a common interest in belonging to a Jewish community on campus. As one of 88,000 students at UofT and one of the very few Jews in the Kinesiology program, coming to Hillel feels like my “home away from home”. I am so grateful to all the staff (shout out to Ariel, Rabbi Julia and Einav!) at Hillel for everything they do to provide students with a Jewish campus experience.

One of the roles of Hillel student leaders is to plan and execute programs or events during the year. Something that I really want to do this year is organize a Shabbat dinner off campus. This will allow the observant students who cannot commute on Shabbat to be able to participate and give everyone else a different type of Shabbat experience. Something else that I would like to see happening is a Hillel UofT ski/snowboarding trip.

With Rosh Hashanah just around the corner, I would like to share with you a short thought. The month of Elul (the month leading up to Rosh Hashana) is a time to prepare yourself spiritually for the days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the year ahead. During this time, we have to self-reflect and ask ourselves who we are and what do we want to become? Rabbi Ari Bensousan (check out Meaningful Minute), explains that in order to accomplish this we have to dream. We need to envision ourselves as being the friend, brother, sister, spouse, parent etc. that we want to be. We have to dream big and by doing that we will realize what obstacles and challenges are standing in the way. For example, if your goal is to work on becoming more compassionate, picture yourself in a specific situation where you react in a compassionate and loving way.

Rabbi Tzvi Sytner (of The Village Shul) explains that just like a blank canvas or an empty field has the potential to turn into anything, so too, human beings have the ability to grow into whatever we wish to be. As Rabbi Sytner expressed, “If you define yourself by what you’re not, then that is all you will ever be. However, if you define yourself on who you are, then who knows what you will become.” Rosh Hashanah is the day to celebrate the creation of human beings and our potential. Recognize what you are already. Focus on your strengths and what you can accomplish, rather than focusing on your shortcomings and limitations. Decide who you want to be and make that happen by taking small steps. To conclude with a quote from Rabbi Eytan Feiner; “In Elul you have the chance to redefine yourself. Hashem doesn’t look at who you were, but rather who you are today.” You all have the ability and potential to change — but will you?

I wish everyone a meaningful Rosh Hashana and a successful year ahead. I look forward to seeing you all at Hillel!

Shana Tova!

Parshat Vayeshev

Parshat Vayeshev

In this week’s parsha, Vayeshev, Jacob’s familial conflicts continue in future generations with the stories of Joseph and Tamar. For Joseph, this is a sequence of seemingly disastrous events through which G-d’s favor continues to protect him. Of Jacob’s thirteen children, Joseph was his most cherished, and he makes this quite clear to his other sons. Between this and Joseph’s talent for interpreting dreams that seem to show him ruling over his brothers, they grow increasingly jealous and wary of him, eventually leading to them selling him for twenty pieces of silver. Joseph continues to be favored by G-d in Egypt and is successful both in the household where he works and even after being thrown into prison, falsely accused by his master’s wife after he rejects her advances. In prison, he continues interpreting dreams including that of the Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer, and asks him to speak favorably to the Pharaoh after being freed from prison. While Joseph faces continued struggles in this parsha from both his family and community, his hard work and service to those around him is rewarded by G-d even as he is met with ongoing injustices.

The secondary narrative of Vayeshev is of Tamar, Jacob’s grand-daughter in law, who also receives a series of familial catastrophes. Tamar is the wife of Er, son of Judah, son of Jacob. When Er dies, and leaves Tamar childless, the proper protocol of yibbum, where a brother-in-law is meant to marry the wife of his deceased brother, is not carried out by Judah’s son Onan. Therefore G-d kills Onan as well. Fearing the death of his third son, Shelah, Judah delays the possibility of Tamar’s marriage to him, and she is left in limbo for years. Without anyone to marry Tamar and provide her with the expected familial and socioeconomic support she should be entitled to, she is stuck as a childless widow and unable to move on. With this in mind, she takes action by carrying out a deception of Judah to become pregnant by him, posing as a sex worker and disguising herself with a veil. When it becomes clear she is pregnant, the townspeople, including Judah, label her a harlot and call for her death until she proves that Judah was the father and that he refused her the proper marriage to Shelah. Tamar’s endeavors lead to her birthing twins, successfully reasserting her lineage and status, and her deception is praised, both outspokenly by Judah and implicitly by the text, when it is revealed that she is “righteous” and not a “harlot”. 

This week’s parsha is centered around justice and accountability. In a world where women have little agency and recourse over their socioeconomic status or family status, where men can be legally enslaved and imprisoned without trial, where the voices of the powerful are taken more seriously than the words of the oppressed, Tamar and Joseph act resourcefully and with G-d’s favor are able to seek a better outcome for themselves despite the extremely difficult situations that they find themselves in. We too can be inspired by Tamar and Joseph’s courage in our daily lives as we face systems of oppression or work as allies – for women’s rights, anti-carceral justice, anti-poverty work, an end to family violence and more. And we can also learn from Judah’s ability to admit when he was wrong, recanting his callous words against her and praising Tamar for her righteousness, as a tzaddikah. The ability to do better, to learn and grow, and to support our communities is always available to us, no matter what point we are coming from. Parsha Vayeshev may show some of the worst traits of familial rivalry and letdowns, but it also provides us with exceptionally courageous figures we can look to.

Written by Nelson Morgan

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
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