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

My First (Virtual) Year at University

My First (Virtual) Year at University

The pandemic has caused school to feel very different compared to what I’m used to. I used to go to class and make friends in person. Now, all of my courses are online and it’s significantly harder to do things – even ask questions in class. Times have changed, so the way I make friends has changed too. One method I’ve used is to talk to people through the chat feature on Zoom during class. This way, I can still connect with new people and form new friendships.

Hillel has also helped me adjust and make friends at Ryerson University. Hillel invited me to many events where they displayed a lot of positive energy toward me and other students and made sure we felt welcomed and included. I attended a few virtual hangouts and met other students from Ryerson and UofT at the in-person hangout at Earl Bales park. They even sent me a welcome bag, which included a Hillel blanket, a toque and a water bottle.

Ever since I was accepted to university, I’ve wanted to be involved in the Jewish community. And, being a social person, I always loved being around and meeting people from around the globe. From the first day, the staff have welcomed me with a smile on their faces and have been excited to hear about my origins. My story feels different compared to other Jewish people, being from Romania. But the staff at Hillel have encouraged me to share my history with others and have helped transform my story into something to be proud of, and to learn and grow from it. 

Hillel cares a lot about people. The way they treat you makes you feel wanted and valued and it’s obvious that the organization is here to help students. Hillel has provided an amazing experience and I recommend them to any student that wishes to get involved in the community. I feel lucky that an older Jewish friend told me about Hillel and I’ve been part of the community ever since. 

Erwin, Ryerson University ’24

A Walk Down Memory Lane

A Walk Down Memory Lane

As our time at Ryerson Hillel comes to an end, we started to reminisce on the days spent laughing with our friends and the nights spent pondering our future. All those beautiful thoughts quickly became overshadowed on the ominous Friday the 13th when Ryerson announced it was closing. How fitting of a day to find out life as we knew it would flip upside down.

Sitting in our student building watching everyone scream excitedly at their phones, we were sad because we realized all our lasts had passed without us knowing. That past Monday was the last time our crew skipped to the bathroom together on break, the last bubble tea date with friends between classes, and the last time we sat on the swingless swings that squeezed our hips a little too tight. It was a scary feeling knowing that the longer we spent downtown, the more coronavirus could spread around us. Yet, how could we leave if it would be our last time on campus as Ryerson students? There’s so much we still didn’t get to do during our time and we knew that once we left, that was it.

Although we may never get to do any of these things again, we do get the chance now to reminisce about how fun they were. And as our good friend, Or, constantly quoted from Winnie the Pooh himself, “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

So, let’s be nostalgic and remember the good times spent with Hillel Ryerson:

Remember that time we got free Ben & Jerry’s on campus, or our party in second year when the weather channel put us on the giant screen in Yonge and Dundas square?

Remember the yearly multi-faith Shabbat dinners hosted by Ryerson when we got to socialize with all the higher ups of campus, or when we would laze around the loft while eating free lunches?

Remember that time when we listened to Geoff belt Pocahontas in Hebrew, or when we would pile up the bean bags next to the swings to create an American Ninja Warrior course? All of our Mario Kart and Just Dance competitions and of course, who could forget about working on Out of Sync for months and then having the time of our lives on stage as a team?

Looking back at our four years, it’s crazy to think how many changes we’ve had in our staff from 2016-2020. However, each group of staff brought a unique element to Hillel Ryerson that ended up making each year amazing. So we’d like to thank Allysa, Or, Emily G., Tehila, Emily C., Elyse, Leore, Einav, Mitchell, and Ashira for all the hard work they each put into making Hillel Ryerson the best.

To the various exec teams we’ve been a part of, thank you for being such an awesome group of people to spend the years planning and executing events with. You all became more than just team members to us and we know that our friendships with you all will last a lifetime.

With love,
Jess and Adina <3

Written by: Adina Saban and Jessica Kline

X