My Mental Health Story

by | Feb 23, 2020 | Jewish Life at Western | 0 comments

by Natalie Cheifetz

I remember my first day at Western University and the overwhelming fear I felt being surrounded by so many amazing people. I went through so many phases where all I did was wake up, read, go to class, read, and go to sleep. It was so easy to compare myself to other students and feel that because I was not smart enough, I had to work harder just to keep up. This cycle of working so hard, not getting the grades I wanted, then working even harder, ate me up inside. On the outside, I was trying to do it all with a huge smile across my face. It was so easy to put these negative thoughts down deep in the back of my mind until the end of the day when they all at once would come out.

University is one of those places where not being able to cope isn’t talked about. It’s so hard to find a place where I can openly talk about mental health or find the support that I need. The stigma still exists and often places barriers in front of students who are trying to seek mental health support. There is no x-ray or blood test that proves someone is struggling with their mental health. You cannot see my anxiety. I cannot prove that I have anxiety, but it still impacts every aspect of my life from my social life to my education.

It took a lot of courage for me to come to my first Western Hillel event, but it has truly changed my life. During my first coffee meeting with Leora, I remember her asking what I wanted from my experience at Hillel and I said, “a community”. I needed that community feeling that I had from my synagogue in Mississauga, when you walk into a room and you feel like you are meant to be there. I get this feeling every time I walk into an event at Hillel and see my group of friends sitting there. What Western Hillel has taught me is that there is always time to take a break. I still get nervous every time I walk through the Hillel doors. I find it hard to meet new people and to be sociable all the time. But when I finally get inside, I am truly able to be myself. Not only is it a community that I would consider myself a part of, I consider it to be my family.

It’s not fair to expect us to all be “on” all the time. It’s okay to take a day off and take breaks throughout the day. Everyone has their own ways to cope with the everyday stressors and it’s important that in University we are able to find what works best for us. When I am stressed, I walk by University Hospital and imagine one day being able to work in a hospital. This action of simply walking often grounds me and helps make the bad days a little shorter and the good days a little longer.

Through my role as Ruderman Inclusion Ambassador, I am working on making Western Hillel more inclusive for students with disabilities on our campus. From personal experience, I know that it may be hard to reach out and come to one of our events. But once you do, you won’t regret it. If you need someone to reach out to please don’t hesitate to contact me. If you need an event buddy, a walk buddy, or want to go out for coffee, I am here for you. Lastly, for anyone struggling with mental health, I want to say that your experiences are valid!

Maintaining Close Relationships at Western Hillel

Maintaining Close Relationships at Western Hillel

Western University students are fortunate to have a university leadership that cares about the well-being of students and actively seeks feedback on how to improve the university experience 

Recently, Western University President, Dr. Alan Shepard, hosted a small group of student representatives and staff from Western Hillel for an important discussion about antisemitism and Jewish campus life. In an effort to make sure that the conversation with students will lead to a greater impact on campus, Dr. Shepard made sure to also invite the university’s new Associate Vice-President of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Opiyo Oloya. 

Visiting the President’s residence was incredibly moving and motivating. We discussed Jewish student needs, challenges around kosher food on campus, religious accommodations, our concerns for students around the rise in antisemitism, and how our campus can be a safe and welcoming space for all. 

Maintaining close relationships with senior university leadership is a key element of Hillel Ontario’s campus strategy, and it was wonderful to get to know Dr. Shepard and Dr. Oloya and hear about their plans for commitment to a positive student experience. We are so grateful for the ongoing partnership and support between Western Hillel and Western University.

I believe that when Hillel has true partners in addressing Jewish student needs, it makes our campus a better place for all students. This experience with our university leaders gives me tremendous hope that we will see Jewish campus life flourish at Western. With the winning combination of an invested university administration, our dedicated student leaders and dedicated Hillel staff, every Jewish student will have the space and opportunity to create their own personal Jewish campus life experience.

[attached image; names left to right: Sofia Musman (Program Coordinator), Isabel Borisov (Club President), Jordyn Cohen (Club Holocaust Education & Tikkun Olam), Jacqui Dressler (Advocacy Coordinator), Scott Goldstein (Director), Dr. Opiyo Oloya, Dr. Alan Shepard, Glen Raudanskis (VP Admin)]


To my Fellow Students

To my Fellow Students

I am Jacob Brickman, Western Hillel’s outgoing VP Student Life, and a soon-to-be graduate in psychology. I will be walking across the virtual stage in June, after five wonderful years at Western, three of which I have spent being very actively involved in Hillel. To any Jewish student who is not graduating this spring, being very actively involved in Hillel is one thing I would recommend above nearly all else while you study here. I have gone to events, I have been a part of fundraising campaigns, I have volunteered, I have done internships and fellowships every semester since my third year, I have tabled, I have sung, I have danced, I have led, I have been a committee chair and a vice president. Of all the experiences I have had with Western Hillel I can confidently recommend trying everything, at least once.

We all know: the pandemic and the past year (and a half) have sucked. It is hard to find silver linings. Some of the things I loved most about being at Western, being in London, came to a grinding halt almost instantaneously and simultaneously. Shabbat dinners, being able to see friends and meet new people at events, for Hillel and for the other clubs I have been a part of over the years, and really any opportunity to gather with people who are special to me felt like they would be absent for my last school year. Rather than accepting full loneliness and isolation from one another, the staff and student leadership of Western Hillel worked tirelessly from the summer to the spring to make sure our community came together as often and as meaningfully as possible. I, for one, am so tired of Zoom and Teams and Skype. However, being able to connect to anyone around the world this past year has opened up opportunities for myself and so many others.

This last semester, I was a part of a Jewish Learning Fellowship cohort with Leora (our awesome Senior Jewish Educator – you should meet her if you have not yet). If we had been in person, several of the people in my cohort would not have been there and their voices and ideas would never have made it into our sessions. Because of Zoom, Jason was able to call in from B.C., and anyone who moved home from London out of residence, for instance, was still able to join, in a way they simply couldn’t have otherwise.

As I move on from my undergrad, I have been thinking about what Hillel has meant to me and what it could mean for you, my fellow students, as you continue here at Western. This is a beautiful place. You will make friends, you will deepen friendships you already have. You will learn, teach, and experience. You will eat. My goodness, you will eat.  Keep an open mind and try out new programs. Having a Jewish community at your home away from home will enrich your life, as it has enriched mine. 

Thank you, Western Hillel.
Jacob Brickman