I love the holiday of Sukkot and look forward to it every year. While often overshadowed by the High Holy Days, I find that it offers us a chance to relax after the intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For a week, we are invited to enjoy the outdoors, to celebrate abundance, and to express gratitude (going back to the holiday’s roots as a celebration of a successful harvest season). 

Yet, accessing the joy, the gratitude, and the togetherness of Sukkot seemed almost impossible given the challenges posed by the pandemic, and the fact that we as a Hillel community remain scattered across the GTA (and beyond!), spending most of our days connecting only virtually. 

At the same time, perhaps the most important word of our season has been “wellness.” We, students and staff, have been particularly attuned to the need to care for our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing. To state the obvious, it’s a tough time. As a Hillel community, we knew we had to try to meet the moment. 

Students from York, Ryerson and UofT gathered to brainstorm together: What did they need most right now? What did their friends, classmates, and peers need? How could we find a way to both celebrate Sukkot and care for ourselves across virtual time and space? 

What emerged was Sukkot Wellness Week, a menu of experiences that spanned the week of Sukkot, offering multiple ways to mindfully care for ourselves and each other.

First, there was a daily instagram prompt, alternating between thoughtful and silly questions about Sukkot, inviting students to think about their favourite fall comfort foods, Sukkah decorations, and what special guests they would welcome into their metaphorical (or actual) Sukkah. 

Second, we offered a different experience each day, focused on a different area of wellness.

  • Spiritual: on Tuesday, students joined me in learning Jewish texts related to the deep connections between Sukkot and wellness.
  • Mental: on Wednesday, students hosted a Wellness Wednesday check-in, a preview of what we hope will be a regular fixture in our Hillel calendar. 
  • Physical: On Thursday, a student prepared a meditation to offer us a chance to breathe and to pay attention to how we were feeling in our bodies. 
  • Emotional: On Friday, a student led trivia and other games as a way to destress from the week. Much laughter ensued.

By design, there was something for everyone. More importantly, Sukkot Wellness Week set the stage for an ongoing conversation about how we care for our full selves, and how this is deeply grounded in what it means to live Jewishly. Our work is far from over, and while Sukkot only lasts a week, it’s themes can help power us through the year ahead. 

Rabbi Ariella Rosen, Senior Jewish Educator

A Hillel Summer: Keeping Spirits High

A Hillel Summer: Keeping Spirits High

My name is Stacey Ianco and I am going into my third year at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management. Hillel has been my home away from home, and has helped me embrace my Jewish culture, enhance my Jewish identity, and meet new people.. 

This year has been like no other we have experienced. Throughout these challenging times, I have felt lucky to have remained connected with my fellow students – especially through my involvement in Hillel. 

Especially given the year we just experienced, Hillel has been vital to my Jewish campus life. That’s why I was so excited to hear that Hillel programming was going to continue during the summer.

Hillels Ryerson, York and UofT teamed up to create the Summer in the 6ix program, and I knew I wanted to participate. 

In addition to receiving some really cool swag, Summer in the 6ix connected me with activities and programming I

 could engage in alongside (virtually) other Jewish students across the GTA. We baked and decorated delicious sugar cookies over a Hillel Zoom meet, sharpened our knowledge and competed with other Hillel students in bi-weekly trivia games, and customized our Hillel t-shirts with tie-dye. In a summer characterized by distancing and separation, Hillel brought me closer to my community.

To be sure, this has been a difficult year for so many reasons. I am so appreciative of all that Hillel does for Jewish students across the province. Especially this year.

I will continue to be an active member of Hillel for all my years of university and the future. Hillel has given me the confidence I need to be a proud Jewish woman and has enhanced my university experience in many ways. 

I look forward to being able to create more special events to include and connect every Jewish student in Ontario for many years to come.

Stacey I., Hillel Ryerson Student Leader

Multi-Faith Shabbat Dinner at Ryerson University

Multi-Faith Shabbat Dinner at Ryerson University

This year, I had the privilege and honour of co-hosting Hillel Ryerson’s Multifaith Shabbat Experience. This is an annual social and educational event in partnership with Ryerson University’s Presidents Office where students and staff from across campus come together to share a meal and welcome Shabbat. 

This year, the organizing committee was faced with the challenge of keeping the core values of our usual multi-faith evening while holding it over Zoom. The Jewish community in Toronto has been changing how they bring people together since the pandemic began, and have found many ways to creatively find community in these times. 

Our committee came up with a variety of ways to translate our event to a virtual space, including sending prepared Shabbat boxes to attendees’ homes with the necessary items to celebrate, and hosting an educational Challah braiding workshop. Additionally, we created breakout rooms during the event to simulate the conversations held while sharing a meal at a Shabbat table. Each breakout room was facilitated by a Hillel student leader who led a thoughtful discussion around the importance of rest, while also speaking to their own personal connections with Shabbat. 

Each year, the Multi-Faith Shabbat experience is an opportunity for Jewish students, faculty, and our allies to come together and celebrate Jewish ritual on campus. We celebrate the universal values of Shabbat through inviting student leaders of other faiths to speak about what rest means to them. This year, we were honoured to hear students from the campus’ Catholic, Hindu, and Indigenous communities present and share their experiences. We also welcomed student leaders from several other clubs and organizations including the Ryerson Indian Association, Ryerson Student Union, and the Ryerson Liberal Arts Society. 

Honouring and showing our appreciation to Ryerson University’s faculty and administration is also an important element to our event. This year we invited members, including the university’s newly appointed Director of Human Rights and Dean of Ryerson’s Law School, to recite the Shabbat blessings alongside our students. Typically, the evening is a wonderful way for students to network with staff, and so in replacement we created a second round of breakout rooms for students to engage with professors and administrators who related to their field of study. 

For me, co-hosting the Multi-Faith Shabbat Experience was the highlight of the year. I am so thankful to Hillel for providing us with the outlet to create meaningful social and educational opportunities, and help us all find ways to foster positive experiences during this difficult time. 

  • Jen Miller, Hillel Ryerson

 

My name is Adam Rose and I am a second year Performance Production student at Ryerson University. This is the first year I have taken part in Hillel Ryerson and it has been nothing but a wonderful experience. A moment that stuck out to me was attending the well-loved and highly anticipated annual Multi-Faith Shabbat Experience.  

Since the event was held virtually this year, I was asked to be a breakout room facilitator to recreate what would normally be networking in person. It was so much fun and an absolute pleasure to guide conversations with students, faculty members, and President Lachemi himself about topics concerning the importance of rest during Shabbat. We took the time to reflect and be grateful for the week that had just passed and looked forward to the week ahead. 

I was also lucky enough to have been asked to create an artistic work that correlated with the Hamotzi blessing (for bread) for the event. The inclusion of tangible elements like students’ artwork allowed the sense of community and personability, which the Multi-Faith Shabbat Experience is known for, to continue online. Displaying the selected pieces also had the benefit of showcasing and elevating the talent spread across the range of unique arts programs that Ryerson University has to offer. I am very grateful and proud to have been a part of this experience and excited to further my Hillel Ryerson journey.

 

  • Adam Rose, Hillel Ryerson
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