We Will Be There Every Step Of The Way

by | Jun 3, 2021 | Advocacy, Hillel Ontario, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Below are perspectives from Hillel staff Ruth, Rob, Ariella and Yos on the current rise in antisemitism on campuses across Ontario. 

 

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Rob and I have worked at Hillel for the majority of my professional career. In fact, fall 2021 will mark  my 13th year on campus. 

That’s right, it’s my Hillel Bar Mitzvah! 

But rather than a year of celebration, this upcoming year will require more of me, our staff, and our students than any year that has come before. The campus climate and attitudes towards Israel have shifted and it has left many of our students feeling isolated and frightened. Unions, large and small, have  made bold, one-sided declarations that marginalize Jewish students and fuel a culture of antisemitism. Our students’ social media feeds have become peppered with anti-Israel rhetoric, posted by peers who they once considered friends. And, offering an alternative voice in student  forums has too often resulted in obsessive trolling and hateful personal messages. 

That said, not all hope is lost. Moments like these galvanize the community and I continue to be inspired on a daily basis by our amazing students who give their time, insight, and passion  to push back against hurtful vitriol. We have students sifting through vicious statement after vicious statement, trying to delineate which use classic antisemitic tropes and which fuel a culture of ignorance about Israel. We have students engaging in  difficult  one-on-one conversations with their friends and colleagues on campus about discrimination and hatred. And, there are students  reaching out to various members of their student government to ensure that Jewish students are being heard at this critical moment. We are writing articles, releasing statements, holding processing sessions, and lobbying administration to take proactive measures to ensure that Jewish students feel safe on campus. 

These are unprecedented times and it will take a broad communal effort to overcome these challenges. I am so grateful to be returning to Hillel for my 13th year so that together with my amazing colleagues, we can be there to support Jewish students and our university partners in making campus a safe place for all.

Rob Nagus
Senior Director, Hillel UofT

 

It’s a bewildering time to be a Jewish student on campus. In the long and (often) dangerous arch of Jewish history, Jewish diasporic communities have rarely been able to enjoy the safety and security felt in a contemporary Canadian landscape. At the same time, this is without question one of the more challenging and isolating times to be a Zionist. 

The recent escalation in Israel created  a larger global conversation about the conflict on social media and in the press. Public opinion shifted and the rhetoric leaned in favour of talking about Palestinian solidarity, with little to no mention of Israelis or antisemitism. I witnessed Jewish students being increasingly marginalized in online spaces, often scared to speak up about their relationship to Israel and its centrality in contemporary Jewish life. 

As a Hillel staff person engaged in social media, I was privy to a lot of these online conversations. I understood how Jewish students must have been feeling because, to be honest, I was feeling the same way. This is why our strategy was first and foremost to ensure students had safe spaces to discuss the recent escalation, and to develop tools for managing the challenges associated with anti-Israel rhetoric online. 

I am confident we will continue doing the important work of education, community organizing and coalition building that are vital to keeping Jewish students and supporters of Israel safe on campus and online. 

Ruth Chitiz
Assistant Director, Hillel York

 

We’ve navigated over a year of surreal experiences; a natural consequence of our vast world being shrunk into the size of a screen as we have (as much as possible) stayed home. Around us, the mundane cues of day-to-day life. On our laps or in our hands, a portal to some of the most important and biggest issues that we face. 

A couple of weeks ago, that contrast came into sharp relief for me, as, surrounded by the stuffed animals and kitten posters of my sister’s childhood bedroom (I was on a brief visit home to see family), I found myself staring into the faces of over a dozen students who were looking for help in processing one of the most challenging moments of their lives. 

We know that the recent tumultuous weeks of protest and horrific violence between Israelis and Palestinians has been painful to witness. It’s also apparent that antisemitic rhetoric and acts of hate have increased throughout the globe. Social media has been filled with incomplete talking points, sound bites, and memes that are unproductive at best and harmful at worst. And through it all, regardless of their personal politics, many Jewish students have felt alone: watching relationships fracture as friends ask them to choose sides, feeling forced to speak for a country simply because of their identity, and no matter what they choose to say, risking losing their ties to various communities of which they are a part. 

Students were in need of being together with others who understood how complicated this moment felt; how personal it was. So, along with fellow Hillel staff Ruth Chitiz, we invited students in just to be together, to share how they were feeling, and to make sure they knew they were not alone in this. While politics was not absent in the discussion, it also wasn’t the lead. 

And the students talked. About navigating social media, about friendships and academic relationships being strained, about feeling afraid to speak up and share their views. And they listened to each other, and responded with words of solidarity. Through it all, my heart felt like it was simultaneously breaking from the pain that I heard, and becoming more full from the loving support that I witnessed. 

For the first time in days, students got to know they were being heard and that their pain and fear were being validated. That despite the isolation of this moment, compounded by the isolation of living through a pandemic, they were not alone. In addition to Hillel staff, we helped these students see that they had each other.

This post, much like the conversations we have had and will continue to have with students, is not about what should happen in the Middle East, or about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about the loneliness that came from this latest conflict for so many of our students. It’s about how, while we may disagree about facts, feelings should never be up for debate. 

In a world that is increasingly polarized, our job at Hillel is to allow our students to express their emotions in a safe and non-judgemental space. They deserve (and need) a break from feeling forced to defend their positions, to be invited to process why they even care in the first place, and to know that Hillel is here to hold them through that.

I’m grateful to be in a position to help foster  this crucial space, whether on screen, or (hopefully soon) in person. Especially now, this is exactly where I want to be. 

Rabbi Ariella Rosen
Senior Jewish Educator

 


As tensions rose on the streets of Jerusalem and another outbreak of violence between the IDF and Hamas in Gaza began, half a world away we saw the same conflict play out in a very different way. 

In this bizarre proxy war, the battlefield is social media, and instead of rockets and missiles, it’s brightly coloured Instagram squares with catchy slogans featuring poorly researched statements that seem determined to position the conflict as a false binary. In the eyes of the activists pushing this online battle, one must choose between two mutually exclusive positions and once committed to a “side”, one must support it unequivocally.

At Queen’s university, where I am the director of our campus Hillel, we have seen several university groups and clubs release inflammatory, one-sided statements that both deny Jewish indigeneity (by describing Israel as a colonial project) and completely ignore the role of Hamas in the latest round of violence. We have also heard reports from many individual Jewish students that they have received messages from peers and even friends that range from demands to defend or explain Israeli government decisions/policies, to full-blown antisemitic slurs. 

So how are we responding to all of this? 

Many in the Jewish community will have heard about the inflammatory statement released by the Queen’s Journal on Erev Shavuot, and you may have seen Hillel’s response letter which we published on our social media channels. We followed up this action by coordinating students to email the Dean of Student Affairs to address the hostile atmosphere that is being created by the students pushing their anti-Israel agenda while employing numerous antisemitic tropes. Over the past several weeks, our Hillel leaders brought together more than 20 Queen’s students to lobby every faculty council on campus, and the leadership of the AMS (Queen’s student government) to remember their responsibilities to support all students at this incredibly difficult time.

I am pleased to report that we have received unanimous commitment from the student leaders that we met that they would refuse to align themselves with the divisive politics being pushed by the most radical activists on this campus. The essence of their argument is that the only party responsible for solving the inequities that exist in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, is Israel. They want to perpetuate the idea that this conflict isn’t a conflict at all, and that it’s all very simple. We know that’s not true and we are refusing to take part in the game that these students want us to play. Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in safety and security and we will not make students feel like they have to choose between one side or the other.

It may feel that the outlook right now is somewhat bleak. We have all been shocked by the avalanche of antisemitism that we have witnessed across our province and especially on our university campuses. But Hillel is here. And we always will be. We will always be the front line of defense against antisemitism on campus, and it is our student leaders who are on the ground doing the policy research, community organising, statement drafting and public diplomacy. My students know their campus better than anyone and so I have been more than glad to follow their lead in our advocacy.

Student leaders deserve far more credit than they often receive for the hours upon hours that they dedicate to protecting their fellow Jewish peers. They aren’t simply the next generation of Jewish leaders, they’re Jewish leaders right now! So if I leave you with one message, it’s this… the kids are alright…and we should trust them!

Yos Tarshish
Director, Queen’s Hillel

A Message from Hillel Ontario’s Student Presidents

A Message from Hillel Ontario’s Student Presidents

Dear students, parents, supporters, and other members of the Ontario Jewish community,

We are writing to you as the Hillel presidents representing nine universities across Ontario. 

We are often asked what it’s like to be a Jewish student on campus. And, in previous years, we would have taken a more upbeat approach to answering that question. The truth is that things have changed over the past 5 months.

Prior to this spring’s war in Israel, we had never experienced the level of vitriol and backlash that we did recently. We were caught off guard. Many Jewish students lost friendships and severed connections that had been created over many years. Our mental health was stretched to the limit; we have felt burnt out, isolated and anxious.  Even now, with autumn upon us, we are still feeling the exhausting effects of a summer spent advocating for the well-being of our fellow Jewish students. 

Walking back onto campus this week, it was difficult to see some students obviously (and understandably) anxious – both because of the pandemic, and because of the antisemitism Jewish students have experienced over the past several months. At the same time, we also feel more empowered than ever to proclaim pride in our Jewish identity, bolstered by the tremendous support we have felt from across the community.  

Whether you are a first year student, a parent, a sibling, an alum, or simply a member of the community concerned about what seems like an endless barrage of attacks aimed at Jewish students on campus, we want to assure you that as Hillel presidents, we are deeply committed to our roles and responsibilities. We hear your concerns. And, we are proud to serve the current and future Jewish students we support.  

We are working to build relationships with student governments, clubs, interfaith groups, faculty, and administrators on each of our campuses. We continue to empower our peers to learn, to educate, and to advocate for the issues close to our hearts. And, we continue to provide a safe and welcoming community for Jewish students, both on and off campus. 

We also seek to increase resources and staff available to our students so that no one feels unsupported or ill-prepared. We want Jewish students to feel like they can be their entire selves without having to hide a Magen David or avoid conversations about Judaism, Zionism or Israel. 

As we move into a new Jewish year and a new school year, we wish we could say with more certainty exactly what is to come in the next few months. However, it would be naive to do so. Instead, we would like to take this opportunity to commit to you that we will continue to have challenging, but necessary, dialogue with allies across campus. We will continue to support our peers when they feel uncomfortable. And, we will continue to ask for help when we need it. 

Time and time again, our collective history has proven that in a proud, empowered, and united community there is strength, and that from one another we can draw resilience. 

L’shana Haba on quieter, more inclusive campuses. 

Ariel Oren, Guelph Hillel
Evan Kanter, Hillel Student Leader Representative, Hillel UofT
Nathaniel Katz, Queen’s Hillel
Shira Miller, Hillel Laurier
Danielle Lebowitz, Hillel Waterloo
Hannah Silverman, McMaster Hillel
Jordan Goldenberg, Hillel Ryerson
Isabel Borisov, Western Hillel
Nicole Bodenstein, York Hillel

Introducing Our New Staff Members!

Introducing Our New Staff Members!

Every year, we welcome new members to our talented team of Hillel professionals!
This year, we are thrilled to welcome Ashley Murphy, Aviva Davis, Jacob Brickman, Maya Shapira, Miriam Greenberg, Rebecca Ross, Jacqueline Dressler, Sofia Musman and Deborah Pekar.

Read on to get to know them a little better…

 

Ashley MurphyPhoto of: Ashley Murphy - Program Coordinator
Program Coordinator, Hillel Ryerson

Q. What university did you attend?
A. York University
Q. What did you study?
A. Devised Theatre
Q. What is your favourite thing about Jewish holidays?
A. I don’t typically celebrate the holidays, but when I do it is all about good company and good food.
Q. What was your first encounter with Hillel?
A. I was invited by a friend I made in University and I was told Hillel York was THE best place to hangout. After that day, it became the place I felt most at home at York.
Q. What excites you most about working at Hillel?
A. The network of amazing and like-minded people I get to surround myself with on a daily basis.
Q. What is your wish for the upcoming year?
A. To make as many connections as possible, get to know everyone and have fun! 🙂

Photo of: Jared Drewnowsky, VP Philanthropy

Jared Drewnowsky
VP, Philanthropy, Hillel Ontario

Q. What university did you attend?
A. University of Western Ontario
Q. What did you study?
A. I have an Honours Degree in History
Q. What is your favourite thing about Jewish holidays?
A. Time spent with family. It’s always nice to be able to catch up and just sit and talk without the distractions of day-to-day life
Q. What was your first encounter with Hillel?
A. I attended a Hillel dinner in my 2nd year of University. I was introduced to Hillel though a longtime friend who was a year ahead of me. It was a great experience that I wish I’d had early on in my first year.
Q. What excites you most about working at Hillel?
A. I believe that the impact that we can have on young adults at a time when they are really starting to figure out not only who they are but who they want to be is a tremendous privilege.
Q. What is your wish for the upcoming year?
A.
I hope that we finally figure out how to not only be together in person but to stay together in person. I hope that the coming year can be one of bonding and healing as a whole.

 

Photo of: Aviva, Creative StrategistAviva Davis
Creative Strategist, Hillel Ontario

Q. What university did you attend?
A. Emily Carr University of Art and Design
Q. What did you study?
A. Communication Design
Q. What is your favourite thing about Jewish holidays?
A. Getting to spend time with my family
Q. What was your first encounter with Hillel?
A. I went to a Hillel lunch in my 2nd year of university
Q. What excites you most about working at Hillel?
A. Being a part of the Toronto/Ontario Jewish community and making a positive impact in that community
Q. What is your wish for the upcoming year?
A.
To learn a new skill, like coding!

 

Photo of: Jacob, Springboard FellowJacob Brickman
Springboard Fellow, Hillel Waterloo

Q. What university did you attend?
A. Western University
Q. What did you study?
A. Psychology
Q. What is your favourite thing about Jewish holidays?
A. Being together with family over big meals
Q. What was your first encounter with Hillel?
A.
It was a one-on-one coffee chat with Leora Tarshish, who had just arrived at Western as the Senior Jewish Educator and I was going into in my third of five years at Western (never too late to get connected!).
Q. What excites you most about working at Hillel?
A. Building the Jewish student community on campus and empowering students who are already doing fantastic work to plan for the year!
Q. What is your wish for the upcoming year?
A.
More in-person events (with food!) in Waterloo for students to go to.

 

Photo of: Maya, Advocacy CoordinatorMaya Shapira
Advocacy Coordinator, Guelph Hillel & Hillels Waterloo and Laurier

Q. What university did you attend?
A. Queen’s University
Q. What did you study?
A. History with a focus on the cold war and genocides
Q. What is your favourite thing about Jewish holidays?
A. My favourite thing about the Jewish holidays is the connections we make, both strengthening our pre-existing connections with our families and close friends and making new ones with people we haven’t met yet! Especially for the high holidays, it feels like a beginning, and always a really positive way to start off the year.
Q. What was your first encounter with Hillel?
A. My first encounter with Hillel was in University like most students, attending the welcome BBQ for frosh students at Queen’s with a couple of friends I knew from high school.
Q. What excites you most about working at Hillel?
A. What most excites me about working with Hillel is the opportunity to connect with students – especially students who like myself, weren’t really engaged with Hillel in University, but totally could have been!
Q. What is your wish for the upcoming year?
A.
My wish for this upcoming year is for students that are returning to campuses (or arriving for the first time) will find a sense of home and community at Hillel and hopefully normalcy as well.

 

Miriam GreenbergPhoto of Miriam, JLIC
Director, Jewish Learning Initiative (OU/JLIC)

Q. What university did you attend?
A.  I attended York University for my undergraduate degrees and OISE/UofT for my Master’s degree.
Q. What did you study?
A. Psychology and Education for my undergrad and went on to complete an MEd in Special education and adaptive instruction
Q. What is your favourite thing about Jewish holidays?
A. I love the family time and all of the wonderful foods and traditions that bring us together during the holidays
Q. What was your first encounter with Hillel?
A.
My first encounter with Hillel was during my time at York as a student. I enjoyed visiting the Jewish Student Union and meeting new people, as well as reconnecting with familiar faces.
Q. What excites you most about working at Hillel?
A.  I am so excited to develop new relationships, both with colleagues as well as students!
Q. What is your wish for the upcoming year?
A.
I wish for a healthy, productive and interactive year, full of much in person engagement 🙂
   

Deborah PekarPhoto of: Deborah, Business Manager
Business Manager

Q. What university did you attend?
A. Western University
Q. What did you study?
A. Criminology and Sociology
Q. What is your favourite thing about Jewish holidays?
A. Seeing my family and food!!
Q. What was your first encounter with Hillel?
A. During clubs and committee sign up day, there was a Hillel booth and I remember walking over and being welcomed! Everyone was so nice! And, of course, I remember the chicken soup hotline!
Q. What excites you most about working at Hillel?
A. I’m so excited to be working for an organization with such incredible people! Everyone has been so welcoming and I’m ecstatic to begin my journey here!
Q. What is your wish for the upcoming year?
A.
Hopefully that we’re all back in the office and that the world shifts back to normal! 

Jacqueline Dressler
Advocacy Coordinator, Western Hillel

Photo of: Jacqueline, Advocacy Coordinator

Q. What university did you attend?
A. University of Michigan. Go Blue!
Q. What did you study?
A. History and Judaic studies
Q. What is your favourite thing about Jewish holidays?
A. My favourite thing is spending lots of time in the kitchen making my favourite holiday dishes
Q. What was your first encounter with Hillel?
A. My first encounter with Hillel was a Shabbat dinner, I remember it well because it was Chinese food!
Q. What excites you most about working at Hillel?
A.
Having the opportunity to work with such a talented team and our wonderful students! It is really exciting to be a part of an organization that values continuing education and learning opportunities as well.
Q. What is your wish for the upcoming year?
A.
My wish for the upcoming year is that we continue to offer kindness and grace to each other as we navigate our uncertain world and find new and engaging ways to build solidarity and community within our Jewish spaces and outside of them.

 

Rebecca Ross
Springboard Innovation Fellow, Hillel Laurier

Photo of: Rebecca, Springboard Fellow

Q. What university did you attend?
A. Ryerson University
Q. What did you study?
A.
Child and Youth Care (BA)
Q. What is your favourite thing about Jewish holidays?
A.
The bringing of family, community, and friends communally together, all with an underscored shared love and connection to Judaism; ‘being with’ in a meaningful way.
Q. What was your first encounter with Hillel?
A. I can recall that experience clear-as-day! The Program Coordinator for Hillel Ryerson asked me for a coffee chat at Balzacs on Bond/Gould on campus, and in every way possible, they centred in on all the unique parts of my Jewish-ness that, at the time, I felt made me different and/or invaluable to the community. It was the first time in my entire life that I felt like my Jewish identity was being not just acknowledged, but also celebrated and invited into a space.
Q. What excites you most about working at Hillel?
A. Based on the above story, I am most excited to do the exact same for students – celebrate them. I want students at Hillel Laurier-Waterloo to know, and feel, that they can bring their whole selves to an interaction with me, and that those ‘selves’ – many intersecting and overlapping – will be both seen and empowered. I want to be a resource for helping students to continue exploring their Jewish ‘and’ (holistic) identities, and cultivate an ecosystem at Hillel that is shaped by, and reinforced through, student-centred wants and needs.

Q. What is your wish for the upcoming year?
A.
My first wish for the upcoming year is that every single student that longs-for an inclusive Jewish space and/or resource at Laurier is met by our Hillel with open, welcoming arms! For the students that currently are involved, my wish is that I can seamlessly co-create an idea, an event, and/or a space with them that brings them a sense of accomplishment and pride. Most importantly, I want Hillel Laurier-Waterloo to unequivocally reflect all the desires and wishes of its students, whether new or returning. As a Springboard Innovation Fellow, I will quote what I said in my introduction emails to students: “this role will be shaped by all of you” – I truly believe that my efforts for innovation are incomplete without the individual input of what each and every student I work with hopes to see.

 

Sofia Musman
Program Coordinator, Western Hillel

Photo of: Sofia, Program Coordinator

Q. What university did you attend?
A. California State University Long Beach and Fanshawe College
Q. What did you study?
A. Digital Communication
Q. What is your favourite thing about Jewish holidays?
A. Being able to celebrate with family and friends, my favourite holiday is Passover
Q. What was your first encounter with Hillel?
A. First day freshman year, I met a jewish girl (who became my best friend and who also currently works at Hillel) in the dorms, she was talking about her bat mitzvah, I told her I was jewish and she took me to my first Hillel shabbat dinner.
Q. What excites you most about working at Hillel?
A. I was super involved with Hillel during my 4 years of undergrad, and loved it. I’m excited to be involved with it again, and to be able to provide students with a similar experience and I had, which was a home away from home.
Q. What is your wish for the upcoming year?
A.
I wish for this upcoming year to be more positive, to be able to have in person events and more meaningful interactions

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