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!

My Hillel Highlights

My Hillel Highlights

My name is Joel Kahn, and I’m currently studying Engineering Science at UofT. I love being involved with Hillel and meeting other Jewish students on campus. My favourite experiences with Hillel this year have been attending the many events put together by my fellow Jewish students. Here are my top three:

1) Ultimate Pong Tournament

Going out to play some board games and attending a (non-alcoholic) “beer” pong competition at the Wolfond Centre was not only fun, but facilitated a lot of networking among the young Jewish UofT community. I will admit, though, that my friend Ryan and I lost in our very first round of the pong tournament, since we faced an excellent opponent. The hanging out over drinks while watching the finals was worth it as the competition subsequently heated up under a fantastic soundtrack by the DJ.

2) Out of Sync

Out of Sync was overall a very successful fundraiser! For those who don’t know, Out of Sync is an initiative to raise money for campus Hillels by encouraging the community to donate supporting students in an intercampus talent competition. This year, Hillel Ontario succeeded in raising over one hundred sixty thousand dollars to support local Hillels! I know I’ll be excited to see what new events I and other students manage to create with these vital funds, including supporting continuing events such as the Shabbat dinners hosted by Hillel every month.

3) Interfaith Shabbat Dinner

An Interfaith Shabbat dinner was put on earlier this semester, to which I brought some of my non-Jewish friends. Acting as co-table-leaders with my friend David, we were able to give others insight into our personal Jewish experiences, which many of the non-Jewish students sitting around the table hadn’t ever heard about. Many of my friends didn’t know about the traditions of Kiddush (blessing over the wine), washing our hands, and making a blessing over bread before starting our meal. Throughout dinner, we answered questions about keeping kosher, how Jewish traditions have changed from the times of the Temple in Jerusalem to today, and our favourite Jewish songs. Answering their questions and hosting conversations about what religion means to us was tremendously rewarding.

Coming up, my friend Ryan and I are planning a blood drive event for Hillel students to help those in need, currently planned for the end of March. People occasionally think about giving blood, but may be too busy or nervous to actually go out and give. We hope that a lot of people will sign up and help make this a success, so here I am early promoting it! If you choose to sign up for this event, I give my thanks. I’d also like to thank my selfless peers who have worked so hard to plan community events this year that have provided me so many good memories with my Jewish friends. I can’t wait to attend more exciting events this year!

What Hillel and Holocaust Education Week Mean to Me

What Hillel and Holocaust Education Week Mean to Me

Written By: Rachel Cohen

My name is Rachel Cohen and I’m a Hillel Student Leader in my fourth year of study at the University of Toronto. I’ve been involved with Hillel since I was in first year, and have loved being a part of their leadership structure. It’s given me the ability to take part in the planning processes of events such as Model Knesset with Israeli students, orientation week festivities and volunteering with other organizations, such as The House. Last year I hosted a panel discussion at Hart House entitled the Rise of White Supremacy and Hate Groups in Canada. It was a stellar evening, as we heard from five distinguished panelists and continued the interesting discussion, even after the event came to a close.

Planning educational talks has been one of my favourite parts of being involved in Hillel’s leadership structure. It promotes an open dialogue of difficult topics in a safe and dynamic environment. When Rabbi Julia Appel came to me at the beginning of this schoolyear with the idea of executing an event centred around Holocaust education, I was thrilled.

Over the course of three months this fall, the project took flight. The event was to be centred around Daniel Panneton, the Programs and Education Assistant at the Sarah & Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and the curator of The Paradox: Free Speech and Holocaust Denial in Canada. As an emerging historian, Daniel planned to discuss, “Holocaust Denial in Post Truth Era.”

We recently observed the 39th Annual Holocaust Education Week at the beginning of November. This year the theme of Sarah & Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre’s week at the beginning of november was, “Here and Now.” Multidisciplinary programming throughout the GTA illuminated the relevance of Holocaust education to Canadians as we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century. It was both timely and necessary to have these discussions and to examine these atrocities.

We planned the event as part of an extended Holocaust Education Week to remember the six million Jews who perished. The event was personal to all of us—it was personal to me. In a reflection I wrote after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, just over a year ago, I said this:

“I’m proud of my 95-year-old grandmother, Ruth Cohen, who sailed to North America in 1930 and created a new life in Montreal. I’m also proud of my family who remained in Radomsko, Poland. They died at the hands of the Nazis in Auschwitz-Birkenau. While my grandmother was lining up for primary school, my ancestors were lining up for the gas chambers.”

My grandmother left Poland long before the war, but her aunts and cousins stayed. As a descendent of victims of the Holocaust, I’m thankful to have a voice and platform such as Hillel, to honour their memory.

On November 19th, 2019, the event was held at the Wolfond Centre. Due to the time of year, students were stacked with assignments, so I was concerned (as always), about numbers, but the audience turnout was perfect. About fifty students, staff and community members attended the evening.

Holocaust memory is at a turning point. At a time when the last survivors are passing away, anti-Semitism and intolerance are rising at home and abroad. We face an anxious future without the presence of survivors to remind us of the past. So, throughout the event, we considered the questions:

  • How is Holocaust memory changing in this context?
  • What can we do to prevent the spread of hatred and Holocaust denial?
  • Seventy-five years later, why should Canadians, especially young Canadians, learn about the Holocaust? Two generations later, why does it still matter?

With the help of Hillel staff members and students, as well as my friends who are allies of the Jewish community on campus, the event went off without a hitch. Daniel’s presentation was both interesting and thought provoking, as it sparked a lively discussion over the dessert reception post-event.

In the aftermath, as the dust settled and newly appointed Senior Director, Rob Nagus and I cleaned up— I couldn’t help but think how lucky I am to have such great support from my peers and mentors on campus. While the event was based around educating others, I feel as though I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have learned so much in the process of designing these projects. This is knowledge that I will hold with me even after I (sadly) leave Hillel and the university this coming spring.

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