Saying Yes

by | Nov 1, 2020 | Hillel Ontario, News

I hate the word “no”.

Which is why I always start the school year with a values exercise with Hillel Ontario’s Strategy Team that underscores the importance of saying “yes”. We believe that everything is possible. So, when two of my staff came to me in the summer, mid-frantic planning for what we believed was going to be an exclusively virtual school year and said we needed a “student portal”, I said yes. Let’s do that.

Though, I actually really didn’t know what they were talking about.

But I trust that most of my staff are much smarter than me so I asked them what they needed to make that happen. They shared that we needed something like the newly launched virtualjcc.com.

With a commitment to approach our pandemic challenges as opportunities, with positivity and possibility, I made a call.

“Hi. Is it possible for you to white-label the code for the virtualjcc.com and sell it to me so I can build something similar for students for Hillel?”

“Why don’t we just leverage our communal resources and collaborate? I’ll give it to you. There’s a huge opportunity here.”

Hillel HQ’s student login page

Finding professional colleagues who think like you, also love to dream BIG, and embrace “yes” is a rare gift. Especially during a pandemic. Meet Andrew Levy, the Executive Director of the Schwartz/Reisman and Prosserman JCCs, with whom we connected two years ago when Hillel Ontario facilitated a community-wide Talent Symposium.

Several conversations, many great ideas and some innovative thinking later, Hillel HQ was born. Within weeks and at a fraction of the cost.

Hillel HQ’s Israel events and opportunities for students across the province

At the start of the pandemic, as we quickly pivoted to online programming for students, our staff identified a need for the students to have a virtual space where all of these opportunities could live. With limited in-person programming, there was a clear need to have a virtual Hillel destination, that was a secure, customized, digital space for thousands of students to access virtual programming and online connectivity. We also knew that the solution needed to be easy to use, engaging, mobile-optimized, and responsive to Gen Z needs.  

Hillel HQ is only in a beta form. We are testing it and getting feedback from 100 students across the province who are acting as early adopters. Though Hillel HQ currently has limited functionality, it will evolve to house everything we are doing on campus (in-person and online), have increased social functionality, curated content based on the students’ individual campuses as well as their attended events, gamification to connect students and build community virtually, and be a huge driver of data mining. We have four subsequent phases of development planned so this is just the beginning!

Hillel HQ’s Shabbat and Holiday events and opportunities for students across the province

Collaborating like this and building on the same platform can give us the opportunity to share the data, connecting students to the JCC and young adults at the JCC to Hillel programming. What would it look like if every Hillel Ontario graduate received a free online JCC membership as a graduation gift? What can we leverage from the data on parents and high school students who are JCC members to connect with incoming Frosh on our campuses?

We are already exploring Hillel-wide virtual Yoga festivals and other fitness opportunities, producing online cooking shows and working together on field reporting from campus.

The possibilities here are endless.

That’s what happens when we say “yes”.

Jaime Walman
Chief Strategy Officer, Hillel Ontario

Annamie Paul Joins Hillel Ontario

Annamie Paul Joins Hillel Ontario

Last month Hillel Ontario heard from Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada. After winning the leadership race back in October of 2020, Annamie became the first Black person and first Jewish woman to lead a federal Canadian political party. Since then, she has been speaking to Canadians all across the country, spreading messages of hope and inspiration, during a time where these moments are a rarity. No matter the political orientation of the Zoom attendees of this fireside chat, everyone walked away with a few life lessons up their sleeve.

Here are some of my biggest takeaways. First, Annamie spoke about following your passion, a message that I know many students needed to hear. When I graduated from grade 12, I was constantly asked where I saw myself in five years, ten years, and sometimes even twenty years. Although I was asked with the best intentions, I’ve always felt overwhelming pressure to envision a clear career path. Annamie dispelled this myth by referencing the enjoyment associated with the process of discovering your passion rather than having a final goal in mind, and Annamie’s enthusiasm for human rights through a policy lens has shaped the course of her life. Second, Annamie spoke about the importance of speaking up in the face of injustice. Whether you consider yourself an advocate or not, Annamie highlighted the need to follow your moral compass, never remaining complicit. Following Annamie’s time as the leader of the Green Party, it is clear that she isn’t afraid to use her voice and position to shine light on racism, antisemitism, and sexism. These are two lessons I think everyone can learn from.

Annamie spoke about growing up in Toronto Centre (the riding where she will be running in the next federal election), her career as an international lawyer, and her decision to enter politics. As someone who doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional politician, Annamie referenced about the challenges that she’s faced as a Black, Jewish woman. Racism, antisemitism, and sexism were all constant throughout her leadership campaign, and her six months leading the Green Party. 

Throughout Annamie’s talk, I learned about the importance of elevating voices that have previously gone unheard. In a predominantly white space, Hillel students and staff need to work hard to ensure that Jews of Colour feel welcomed. 

After 45 minutes, the latter half of which consisted of an insightful Q&A, Annamie mentioned that she would love to be invited back to another Hillel Ontario fireside chat. For now, I’ll take Annamie’s lessons with me while looking forward to hearing about all of her accomplishments in a year from now.

  • Skylar Banks, Guelph Hillel
Collaboration Breeds Diversity and Inclusion

Collaboration Breeds Diversity and Inclusion

Collaborating with other student organizations allows us to diversify the students at our events, build coalitions, establish good rapport with other student groups and broaden the topics of the content that we deliver. 

This past month, we had the privilege of working with the Waterloo and Laurier chapters of Menstruation Redefined, which is committed to helping with the “institutional and social barriers surrounding menstruation that risk the health, well-being, and daily lives of many.” This mission resonated with us at Hillel because we understand the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion for all. These are values that we hold as Jews, and want to embody at Hillel. 

We joined forces to produce a fun evening of trivia and learning. The event allowed us to reach new students, educate others on Jewish practice for those who menstruate, and learn more about Menstruation Redefined’s mission. Collaborative events like this allow us to understand key issues and causes that other student-run campus groups advocate for and to build strong allyships and ensure that we propel Hillel’s values forward, such as inclusion and equity.

Jessica Bloom, HIllel Waterloo Student President
Veronica Grad, Hillel Laurier Student President

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