My Parent Perspective as a Parent

by | Aug 31, 2020 | Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

It was a sudden and abrupt end to an otherwise regular university semester. No one could have anticipated the destabilizing nature of parting from many friends, schoolmates, and professors without the expected personal face-to-face interactions and graduation noise. 

As our daughter, Joelle was fast approaching the end of her last semester of her last year of undergraduate studies at the University of Guelph, she was looking forward to an agenda filled with many programs and social events with both Hillel and Chabad. Like all the students, she rushed back home and experienced the stress of being unsure of the future and the threat of a highly contagious virus that was intensified by parents who insisted on going food foraging more than ever before. 

Shortly into the quarantine, many opportunities for social engagement and volunteerism, albeit in a new format, came about. Hillel meetings and events provided Joelle with a sense of community and familiarity. Best of all, since we were home together at the strangest afternoon and early evening hours, we were able to “Zoom bomb” the various meetings to say hello to Gila (Director of Hillel Guelph whom we befriended over the last 6 years) and to the many students whom we have watched grow and mature prior to and throughout their university years. Laughter and social engagement were the most welcome diversions from the daily COVID-19 news and professional Zoom calls. Joelle participated in all that Hillel had to offer from Happy Hour (BYO snacks and drinks), occasional group hangouts, and meetings to plan for Yom Hazikaron/Yom Ha’atzmaut. Even when the university year ended, Joelle participated in a Hillel Alumni Town Hall for future planning. 

The semester ended, undergrad ended but the connections and friendships persist, as does an empowered, connected, and talented young leader. As we had witnessed once before with our eldest daughter, Alexandra, Hillel staff and directors are always cheerleaders who are elevating the potential of each of their student members, as well as supportive friends. We feel it is appropriate to acknowledge and thank Hillel Ontario, Guelph Hillel, and Chabad of Guelph for enriching the lives of our daughters and ours.

With sincere appreciation,
Iris Kivity-Chandler and Mark Chandler

Last year was my son Raffi’s first year at university outside of Toronto at McMaster University. Since he was only a couple of hours away, he often came home on the occasional weekend, during school holidays, and for reading week. When the pandemic hit, it was almost like he hadn’t gone away!

He’s remained connected to friends from university, school, and Camp Ramah online, with the occasional face-to-face visit. As his parent, I notice that he certainly misses the camaraderie of being on campus and in-person classes. He misses the Chabad/Hillel Shabbat dinners (Shabbat dinner at home with one’s family isn’t quite the same!), AEPi events, and his McMaster Pops Orchestra practices and concerts. And I know he misses those Hillel bagel lunches!

As an only child, he can often find things to do when he’s alone at home, but I notice that he is starting to get bored – he’d really like to be spending more time in the same space in the company of friends.

The abrupt shutdown of everything in March was a disappointment; Raffi wanted to stay in residence as long as possible, even as most students packed up and went home. He had no trouble getting used to online learning and exams in March/April and I don’t expect the Fall term will be a problem since he finds it easy to collaborate with fellow students online just as if they were working together in person.

He is excited about entering his 2nd year at McMaster University (and even has his sights set on what he wants to be doing in 3rd year and beyond!). The biggest difference this coming year is that he will have his first co-op placement, so will have to be working on finding a job for that, starting in September. This year will be different, but I know he’ll do okay. 

My hope for Raffi in the coming school year is that he continues to be happy and engaged in his studies and active in his social life (to the extent that one can be at a distance from one’s peers). He’s resilient and I am hopeful.

Gail

Jews of India

Jews of India

On January 28th, I was proud to host a panel discussion on the history and culture of the Jewish communities of India with 40 guests and about 80 listeners. I was inspired to put the program together by the thoughtful Sephardi, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Bukhari and yes, Indian Jews on social media who advocate for their community’s representation within large Jewish institutions. 

For most of my life, ‘Jewish cultural programming’ has been synonymous with either Ashkenazi or Israeli culture, to the detriment of my understanding of our people’s beautiful diversity. Working at the University of Toronto Multi-Faith Centre, I realized I could use the platform I was responsible for to uplift these lesser-heard Jewish voices. I settled on Indian Jewry, as opposed to Ethiopian or Bukhari or Kai Feng Jews, out of interest in the origin story of their people: a ship fleeing war in Judea wrecks off the coast of Mumbai, where a dozen survivors reconstitute their culture in a strange land, isolated from world Jewry for hundreds of years.

We had four speakers. Dr Shalva Weil, a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Ann Samson, a historian and leader of Toronto’s Indian-Jewish synagogue; Judith Dworkin, an Indian Jewish educator raised in Toronto’s Indian-Jewish community and Director of McMaster Hillel; and Anna Rajagopal, a young Indian Jewish writer and activist from the United States, who is a prominent social media personality for Jews of Colour. 

The program was phenomenal. We had nearly 100 guests, and many questions for our speakers. All of the speakers enjoyed their time and are eager to come back for any future programs. It was equal parts fascinating and touching to hear these four people describe their relationships with ashkenormativity, diaspora, and most importantly, their own culture.

Jacob Kates Rose, Hillel UofT

A Hillel Staff’s Perspective

A Hillel Staff’s Perspective

Students have had a very different academic year. One that they have never experienced before. There has been isolation, lack of extracurricular activities and little to no in-person contact. In a recent McMaster Hillel student executive meeting on zoom, I said “we are in the business of community so we need to think creatively about what it feels like to be part of this community. ” How does one do this in a pandemic, when campus is closed and when we don’t see each other at all? How do we know how each of us are doing? Are we alone? Are we lonely? Are we coping? Do we bring our best selves to a Zoom and then grapple alone with our worries? These are the questions that I struggle with when trying to support a community despite the challenges that exist for us. 

From the beginning, Hillel pulled out all the pandemic stops to connect with students. Shabbat in a box and delivered to you? Yes! Zoom games night? Yes! Mental health and wellness box? Sign up here! We have you covered. These programs and services were created to keep our community together while at our own homes. We are able to connect through a screen and eat dinner, not together, but knowing that there were over 70 students enjoying the same meal in the comfort of their own homes as well. And we connected face to face over Zoom before and after, while enjoying our rugelach, of course!

All of these programs are great, but the individual connections are even more paramount. A text to a student to check in, a happy birthday wish on their special day or an unfortunate condolence call for those who have lost loved ones. For me, it’s putting in the extra effort to make a student feel special and finding ways to do this. Does the student have dietary needs that we can fulfill and can we make this student feel seen in making a special box for them? Did a student forget to sign up for Shabbat but do we have an extra meal for them anyway? Can we put an extra dessert in a bag, just because we know that student had a tough week? Even though we are in Hamilton, can we make an extra effort so our Toronto or out-of-province students also feel a part of our community and send them mailings and deliveries so that they feel part of our programming? Having inclusive programming is a cornerstone of Hillel’s mandate. In a pandemic, even more so. 

I miss seeing the students. I miss hanging out in the Hillel office and chatting over a bagel and cracking jokes over the lineup at the toaster. I miss bumping into students on campus, catching up on their lives, and being part of a place where they come for comfort and support (and food!).    With all the programming and outreach we have done in the past 10 months, I hope that we can continue to maintain our virtual community. That even though we are not in person, our students know we are still here for them. While the medium may have changed, the sentiment certainly has not.

 

 

 

 


Judith Dworkin,
Director, McMaster Hillel

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