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!

Hillel Ontario Welcomes University of Toronto’s Anti-Semitism Working Group

Hillel Ontario Welcomes University of Toronto’s Anti-Semitism Working Group

Hillel Ontario welcomes University of Toronto’s recent launch of a new Anti-Semitism Working Group. The Working Group will review programming, activities, processes, and practices in place at the University of Toronto’s three campuses and develop recommendations to support the University’s response to antisemitism.

“The establishment of a working group focused on antisemitism is a much-needed measure for the University of Toronto,” said Rob Nagus, Senior Director, Hillel UofT. “Too often, Jewish students who have faced antisemitism on campus have felt that their serious concerns around anti-Jewish hate were dismissed. Given the positive impact of recent anti-racism initiatives on the campus community, it is incumbent on our institutions to also address the unique challenges inherent to combating antisemitism.”

“Across the nine campuses we serve, Hillel Ontario is committed to working with all university administrations to champion the voices of Jewish students,” said Marc Newburgh, CEO, Hillel Ontario. “We look forward to supporting the work of the University of Toronto by ensuring these voices are heard and acknowledged. Doing so will help the Working Group better understand how contemporary antisemitism manifests on campus.”

The Sukkot Wellness Challenge

The Sukkot Wellness Challenge

I love the holiday of Sukkot and look forward to it every year. While often overshadowed by the High Holy Days, I find that it offers us a chance to relax after the intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For a week, we are invited to enjoy the outdoors, to celebrate abundance, and to express gratitude (going back to the holiday’s roots as a celebration of a successful harvest season). 

Yet, accessing the joy, the gratitude, and the togetherness of Sukkot seemed almost impossible given the challenges posed by the pandemic, and the fact that we as a Hillel community remain scattered across the GTA (and beyond!), spending most of our days connecting only virtually. 

At the same time, perhaps the most important word of our season has been “wellness.” We, students and staff, have been particularly attuned to the need to care for our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing. To state the obvious, it’s a tough time. As a Hillel community, we knew we had to try to meet the moment. 

Students from York, Ryerson and UofT gathered to brainstorm together: What did they need most right now? What did their friends, classmates, and peers need? How could we find a way to both celebrate Sukkot and care for ourselves across virtual time and space? 

What emerged was Sukkot Wellness Week, a menu of experiences that spanned the week of Sukkot, offering multiple ways to mindfully care for ourselves and each other.

First, there was a daily instagram prompt, alternating between thoughtful and silly questions about Sukkot, inviting students to think about their favourite fall comfort foods, Sukkah decorations, and what special guests they would welcome into their metaphorical (or actual) Sukkah. 

Second, we offered a different experience each day, focused on a different area of wellness.

  • Spiritual: on Tuesday, students joined me in learning Jewish texts related to the deep connections between Sukkot and wellness.
  • Mental: on Wednesday, students hosted a Wellness Wednesday check-in, a preview of what we hope will be a regular fixture in our Hillel calendar. 
  • Physical: On Thursday, a student prepared a meditation to offer us a chance to breathe and to pay attention to how we were feeling in our bodies. 
  • Emotional: On Friday, a student led trivia and other games as a way to destress from the week. Much laughter ensued.

By design, there was something for everyone. More importantly, Sukkot Wellness Week set the stage for an ongoing conversation about how we care for our full selves, and how this is deeply grounded in what it means to live Jewishly. Our work is far from over, and while Sukkot only lasts a week, it’s themes can help power us through the year ahead. 

Rabbi Ariella Rosen, Senior Jewish Educator

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