The Heart of Auschwitz

by | Nov 15, 2019 | Jewish Life at York | 0 comments

At York, we hosted numerous events for Holocaust Education Week, and each was meaningful in its own right. A major highlight was seeing such a large turnout from the York community – students, administration and faculty alike – to come and hear Judy Cohen, a 91-year-old survivor of Auschwitz, come and share her story.

The event we wish to focus upon, however, was our experiential workshop led by Professor Belarie Zatzman, a professor of Theatre Studies here at York. Once again, we had a great turnout that saw Jewish and non-Jewish students, York faculty and Hillel staff come to participate. At the workshop, Professor Zatzman brought a replica of The Heart From Auschwitz, a heart-shaped booklet made of purple fabric, embroidered with an F on its front cover. The heart is a birthday card for a twenty-year-old girl – Fania Fainer – who was a prisoner at Auschwitz. The heart contains handwritten birthday wishes from 19 other female prisoners and represents an act of resistance on their part – they wished to bring joy and humanity into the darkness of Auschwitz. Fania preserved the Heart throughout the waning stages of the Holocaust, even managing to keep it safe during a death march she was forced to go on as the Soviets approached the camp.

To engage with the Holocaust through a material object was fascinating, and our discussion helped us understand just how powerful a statement it was to create this object and to give it as a gift. Everyone in the session was encouraged to think about the object’s materiality – we explored the nuances of its creation and imagined the challenges associated with creating an intricate piece of artwork within the nightmare of Auschwitz. Everyone also read the birthday wishes inscribed in the heart and identified messages that resonated with them. Afterwards, we explored ways that the resonant messages could perhaps intertwine with our personal narratives.

Overall, Professor Zatzman provided us all with a meaningful, evocative and fascinating exploration that all who participated in will not soon forget.

Written by: Jeremy Starr, Program Director

My LGBTQ+ Jewish Story

My LGBTQ+ Jewish Story

I was born and raised in Israel, where almost everyone I knew was Jewish. My paternal side has deep roots in Israel, and my maternal side had a Romanian Holocaust survivor. After moving to Canada in elementary school, my family maintained strong connections to Israel, and regularly attended synagogue, UJA’s “Walk with Israel” and Hebrew Sunday school. In high school, however, I gradually drifted away from my Jewish identity because I (mistakenly) believed it contradicted my emerging queer identity. I had no “possibility models” to demonstrate a balanced, successful queer Jewish life, and felt extremely isolated in my identity. While my peers were exploring the world of dating, I was struggling to figure out where I fit.

It took me going on the second-ever Birthright-Taglit trip to Israel in June 2018 that was catered to LGBTQ+ Jews to truly learn to live openly as a queer Israeli Jew in Canada. Meeting 40 people who shared parts of my identity and were living joyful, fulfilling lives inspired me to allow Judaism back into my life, while continuing to explore my queer identity.

After that trip, I was inspired to lead the third “Show Your Pride” trip in 2019, and worked at Machane Lev, Canada’s first sleepover Jewish LGBTQ+ summer camp. Before returning to classes at York University last fall, I also reached out to Hillel York to see if they were offering queer Jewish programming for me to get involved in. While they didn’t have anything at the time, they instantly offered me an internship to help them to build this community. They were incredibly supportive in the entire process; I had their ears on every issue that I brought up, and they generously provided any resources I thought were necessary. 

York is a diverse campus, and its Hillel community reflected that. I’m so proud that our “Rainbow Jews” initiative developed so quickly and began expanding across all Ontario campuses. From an all-drag Chanukah party to biweekly casual drop-ins and one-on-ones, we met students at the level that they feel comfortable in. We also began to implement systemic changes to make everyone feel safe and welcome in the Hillel community. It was a pleasure and an honour to meet all the beautiful queer Jews and their allies during this experience.

Now, as an alumni of Hillel York, I hope to take what I have learned and continue to raise awareness of queer and Jewish issues in Toronto and beyond. I also look forward to seeing “Rainbow Jews” continue to grow and become a resource for students across every campus.

Written by Gil Segev

Press Release: Hillel Ontario Responds to York University Update on Open and Respectful Dialogue

Press Release: Hillel Ontario Responds to York University Update on Open and Respectful Dialogue

TORONTO, ON – Today, York University President, Rhonda Lenton, published the University’s report on Open and Respectful Dialogue

The report outlines recommendations on new policies and procedures to facilitate a safer and more welcoming campus environment for all students. The recommendations are the result of a comprehensive external review conducted by former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell after a Jewish campus event was the target of violent protests on November 20, 2019. York University has accepted all of the recommendations made by Justice Cromwell.

The implementation of the recommendations will clarify student codes of conduct, and set enforceable policies and procedures around student safety, freedom of expression, and discrimination.

“Hillel Ontario welcomes the findings of the Cromwell review, and looks forward to the implementation of new policies and procedures that will enhance student life on campus,” said Marc Newburgh, CEO, Hillel Ontario. “Hillel and the Jewish student community are an integral part of the York University community. Jewish students have a right to fully express and explore their identity, including their connection to Israel, without fear of intimidation or concerns for their safety. We expect the University to uphold these new accountability measures that protect the rights of every member of the York community.

“We are extremely disappointed that the York Federation of Students, as an organization tasked with representing all students on campus, chose not to participate in the review process.”

“We commend President Rhonda Lenton for her strong stance against antisemitism and all forms of hate and discrimination, and her recognition that hatred against Jewish students is a real issue that must be tackled. Hillel Ontario and our advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, took an active role in the review process to ensure that the Jewish community’s voice is heard. We will continue to work collaboratively with York University to support the implementation of the recommendations. ”

As an affiliate of the largest Jewish student organization in the world, and now the largest global regional Hillel system, Hillel Ontario works to amplify Jewish campus life across nine universities, with a combined Jewish student population of over 13,000.

From more information contact:
Jaime Walman
Chief Strategy Officer
Hillel Ontario  | 647.248.2325