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!

Prioritizing Mental Health

Prioritizing Mental Health

Written by Netta Halevy

My name is Netta Halevy, I am currently a Life Science student at the University of Toronto. I am so excited to be a Hillel Student Leader this year and can’t wait for all the amazing events and opportunities this year will bring. With midterms coming to an end and exams quickly approaching I know how easy it is to become overwhelmed with all the schoolwork and extra curriculars, however it is vital to remember to prioritize yourself and your mental health. U of T has a lot of resources to talk to someone if you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed. I know that is often difficult to make the decision whether to study for an extra hour or go and talk to someone about mental health. What if you could do both in the same building?

On December 4th, 2019 Hillel U of T will host a day long Study Jam filled with opportunities to work productively, talk openly about mental health, meet new people, and play with dogs. Whether you’re a silent studier or like to discuss your work, there will be rooms in accordance to your preference that you can choose. There will be notebooks, pens and whiteboards available for you in order to fit your study requirements as needed. There will be plenty of food, snacks, and drinks so you can remain as comfortable as possible while still working efficiently. There will also be blankets available so you can remain as comfortable as possible while working.

Hillel will be hosting group counselling sessions at two different times so that as many students that would like to attend will have the opportunity to do so. You can also come talk to our therapists who will facilitate and lead group discussions about mental health. Therapy dogs will also be coming to Hillel to relieve any stress or anxieties you might be feeling from studying all day. If you’re looking to take a group study break there will also be board games and puzzles to give yourself a break from studying but still be actively using your brain.

Come out and meet people, discuss what you’re studying, do your readings, play with some cute dogs and enjoy some snacks. How you choose to spend this event is completely up to you! All in all, I planned this event because I understand firsthand how stressful exam time can be. Hillel wants everyone to know that they are supported and cared for. I can’t wait to see you there!

Kosher Forward for 5780

Kosher Forward for 5780

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!

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