Welcome (back) to YOUR Hillel

by | Aug 29, 2019 | Jewish Life at Western | 0 comments

Written by: Scott Goldstein- Western Director 

As I sit in the Western Hillel offices here on Richmond St, I can’t help but notice how calm and quiet everything around me is. There seems to be only a few cars on the street, campus has an eerie deserted atmosphere, and the lack of student voices flowing up the stairs from the common areas at the Hillel House is noticeable. I see it as the ‘calm before the storm’ that occurs at the beginning of each academic year.

The storm I am referring to includes the chaos of move-in days, OWeek activities, and the bustle of going from class to class. I am also referring to the hard work put in by the amazing student leaders of Hillel towards creating fun, relevant, and meaningful experiences for new and returning Jewish students on campus. Experiences like our Welcome Back Block Party (complete with DJ, food, and fun surprises) or our First year Pizza & Chill where new students get to meet each-other. Expect a return of some of our classics like Lunch On Us, Cafe Ivrit, and holiday events but also keep an eye out for new programs such as Bake A Change, Torah On Tap, and even events for students of Russian speaking heritage (Brewskis & Jewskis, Syrniki in the Sukkah).

One of the things that stands out for me most is how excited everyone I speak with is for the year to begin. I had the opportunity to connect with some students during the summer months to catch up and even plan events. The excitement shared by students just like you is inspiring to me and I am sure will contribute to an amazing year of Jewish campus life. School is really important (probably most important for many) but know that you have so many opportunities to connect with your community academically and socially. Take advantage of your university experience – dedicate time towards yourself and what makes you happy. The diversity of what Hillel offers and your ability to provide feedback that directly impacts what we do is unique. Imagine a bespoke Jewish campus life experience tailored to you!

Speaking of experiences tailored to you, remember when I mentioned “fun, relevant, and meaningful”? We need to know what all those things mean to YOU! We are lucky to have a new staff team member at Western Hillel who really wants to get to know you – Renee Berkowitz. Renee is our new Springboard Innovation Fellow (a.k.a your new best friend) and she is very eager to learn everything there is to know about you and your campus experience. Renee wants to make sure that she learns what you want to experience during your time at Western and hopefully make it happen! All you need to do is reach out to Renee or anyone else on our team (LeoraYos, or yours truly), grab a coffee, and chat.

Stay connected with us through the traditional means of communication (facebookinstagram etc.) but make sure to check out our new website – redesigned with you in mind! Staying connected means you won’t miss any of the offerings available to you throughout the year.

L’hitraot – see you soon!

Holocaust Education Week at Hillel

Holocaust Education Week at Hillel

Guelph Hillel

Guelph Hillel recently hosted Ted Comet and DOROT as part of our Holocaust Education Week (HEW). Ted’s presentation, unlike any I’ve ever seen before, centred around his wife Shoshana’s story,  and how she was able to cope with the pain and trauma of the Holocaust through artistic weaving.

There were so many elements of this event that impacted me. With each passing year, fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remain to deliver first-hand accounts of their experiences. After his wife’s passing, Ted committed to continuing to tell Shoshana’s story by showing her artistic creations. The abstract shapes and colours woven into tapestries are threads strung together by Shoshana, labouring away to express how she views the world as a result of her trauma. It was a captivating display. This program provided the important opportunity for us to examine not only the atrocities of the Holocaust, but also one woman’s resilience and strength – and her healing process through the arts.

As the coordinator for Holocaust Education Week this year at the University of Guelph, my goal was to provide multiple resources for students to learn and engage with Holocaust survivors and their stories in different ways.

In particular, one of Shoshana’s tapestries created a most powerful discussion. Ted explained that the representation of God in her art was challenging for Shoshana to conceptualize. He explained that she considered where to place God, and how to envision God. As an artist myself, this stuck with me. Everything Shoshana created was intentional and deeply personal. My art practice is also made up of abstract paintings that convey traumatic or painful experiences from my life. And, though separated by many years from Shoshana’s experiences, one of my paintings also depicts a conversation with God. I understand Shoshana’s inability to place God; her inability to consider how to portray such a concept through art. I found myself overwhelmed with emotion when Ted described her physical reaction when stepping back from her work; something created from her subconscious mind loaded with so much pain.

Elena’s painting

It was an incredibly moving experience. And, an entirely unique and innovative way to speak about the horrors of the Holocaust. We are so thankful for Ted for joining us, and for keeping the memory of his beloved wife Shoshana alive through this amazing experience.

In all, our Holocaust Education Week programming reached over 200 students, faculty and univeristy staff – Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Of the program, Kathryn Hofer, University of Guelph’s Director of Student Experience said it best when she noted: “the entire week of Holocaust Education Week programming is one of the best ‘pivots’ I have seen this academic year.”

Elena Levy, Guelph Hillel


Hillel Ryerson

My name is Veronica (Roni) Lazebnik and I’m a Hillel Student Leader in my second year of study at Ryerson University. I’ve been involved with Hillel since I was in my first year, and have loved being a part of events centering around leadership. Hillel Ryerson has given me a safe space to connect and meet other Jewish like-minded students on campus, and I will forever be grateful for that.  Perhaps one of my favourite aspects of being active in Hillel’s leadership system has been organizing informative talks such as this. It facilitates ongoing discussion in a secure and inclusive atmosphere on difficult matters. I was thrilled to be a part of the planning of the events for Holocaust Education Week (HEW) 2021 at Hillel Ryerson.

This year, though virtually, Hillel Ryerson partnered with Hillel UofT and Hillel York, as well as our other sponsors, for three events dedicated to commemorating the Holocaust and the six million Jews who lost their lives during the war.

The first event, called Love Thy Neighbor: Holocaust Art in the Druze Community is where students sat in on a fireside chat and moderated Q&A with Israeli Druze artist Bothaina Halabi, whose work focuses on using art as a medium for education around the Holocaust. Read more about this program in the Ryersonian paper. The second event, called Bearing Witness: An Evening with Holocaust Survivor Hedy Bohm is where students got the chance to listen to Holocaust survivor Hedy Bohm, who has a powerful message for future generations. Finally, HEW ended with the event entitled Never Forgotten: The Enduring Spirit of Holocaust Victims’ Poetry, Art, and Music; a conversation about the various forms of art produced during the Holocaust, and the lessons we can draw from them for our time, hosted by Hillel’s very own Rabbi Ariella Rosen. On top of these three events, we shared content on social media, such as movies and educational pieces of writing to document information on other aspects of the Holocaust. Holocaust education week is crucial in many aspects as it allows us to understand the impact of history on our society, the impact of history on human beings and the impact individuals can have on history.

Ryerson, to my knowledge, has and will always be a diverse university, celebrating people from all over the world for who they truly are. This year Hillel Ryerson decided to partner with one of our sponsors; The RSU or the Ryerson Student Union. The RSU also has six Equity Service Centres: The Centre for Women & Trans People, The Good Food Centre, Racialized Students’ Collective, RyeACCESS, RyePRIDE, and the Trans Collective. These centers serve as a platform for students of different communities to work together and organize initiatives, activities, and initiatives for social justice and equality. Through my research, I was able to find a list of films and resources, that related to the Holocaust, while touching on each of the equity centers at Ryerson, and the link to those films and resources were available through our social media page. During these annual events, we attempt to advertise these events to all on campus, because like most of us, we feel that not only Jews should remember and commemorate the atrocities of the Holocaust, but as a community/campus, it is important to “reflect and remember, not just for Jews, but for everyone who needs to learn from the world’s injustices in order not to repeat them”.

Holocaust Education Week means many things to many people. To me, being born into a Jewish household, as well as being a granddaughter of two Holocaust survivors and two close relatives that had passed, I feel closely connected to this. These events are personal for all of us. I feel honored to be a part of Hillel Ontario, as I can commemorate and honor the atrocities of 6 million Jews while learning from our history, educating the public, and “never forgetting” what had happened before us.

Veronica (Roni) Lazebnik, Hillel Ryerson


Hillel York

Holocaust Education Week may have ended but the importance of the programs will remain. When I was approached by Lior, the Director of Hillel York, to run one of the programs, I immediately jumped at the idea. This led to a month of Zoom planning, WhatsApp messages, and various Instagram tagging to put together a comprehensive and engaging Holocaust Education Week.

One of the important aspects of this week was to educate others about the events of the Holocaust. Our first program was Non-Jewish Women Leaders in the Holocaust. In this event, we analyzed the profiles of various women who saved the lives of Jewish children during the Holocaust and taught the rest of the group about their lives. We also learned about the bravery of youth during the Holocaust and what it takes to be a leader. By having the participants engage with the material, I hope it will leave an impact on them and they will remember this for years to come.

One of the major aspects of Holocaust Education Week is trading stories and experiences through oral learning and word-of-mouth. As Holocaust survivors begin to leave us, it is more important now than ever that we make sure “Never Again” doesn’t become a cliché, but a reality.

I wish to thank Holocaust survivor Hedy Bohm who told her story and answered our questions and the producer of the movie ‘The Accountant of Auschwitz.” Lior also led the Cooking a Memory event, inspired by his grandmother. As he explained, it wasn’t about the food but it was about the memory of his grandmother.

An important quality we must have, or build – as incidents of antisemitism rise – is perseverance. This is why I am grateful to have Hillel across campuses in Canada to give us a community where we feel safe and comfortable. As we learned throughout the week, it is important to have allies alongside you in your fight.

I wish to thank all of our participants for taking the time out of their day to learn about the Holocaust. I hope that students learned something valuable during the week and continue to engage with Hillel during their time at York.

Hanna Feldbloom, Hillel York


Western Hillel

Growing up, Holocaust Education was very much a given; community-run speaker events throughout the year, memorial services in school, and regularly included in my school curriculum. Even as a kid, I knew that Holocaust education was important, but I don’t think I fully grasped why until I started Grade 7 at a new school in a new community. For the first time, I was surrounded by people and in a school that had no interest in Holocaust education.

When I was younger, Holocaust Education was important to me because it was how we, as a community, honour the victims and survivors and commit to calling out hatred and discrimination. But when it was time for Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) my first year at that school, I felt uncomfortable that they didn’t even commemorate ⎯ let alone acknoweldge⎯the day; it felt disrespectful.

The reasons that Holocaust Education Week (HEW) at Western Hillel are important to me are endless. It starts with what I knew as a child⎯having designated time to honour Holocaust victims and survivors and commit to being a more respectful community. But it’s also a week for me that signifies the culture of our community. HEW is a time for learning and listening⎯something we don’t actually do very often. It’s a time when our society engages with a chapter of its history when it acted deplorably by trying to understand the suffering that was caused.

As VP Advocacy, I am very proud of my Hillel and the amazing team of student leaders on my Holocaust Awareness Committee that put together an impactful series of events. We started with a virtual tour of Płaszów concentration camp led by Adam Schorin, whose grandfather was a survivor of the camp. Next, students experienced a virtual tour of a Jewish museum in Russia. We also invited Professor Eli Nathans to share his perspectives on Holocaust history and to reflect on how we talk about Holocaust history in society. Finally, students from all backgrounds had the opportunity to hear the survivor testimony of Judy Cohen as she shared her unique presentation on the experiences of women and gender issues during the Holocaust.

Chava Bychutsky, Western Hillel

Students Are Our Inspiration

Students Are Our Inspiration

Every university student has probably asked themselves the very question Natalie and Naomi found themselves asking when the pandemic started: “What can I do with my time, and how can I make it meaningful?”

Both students looked forward to their original, exciting summer plans. After attending Camp Ramah off and on for 10 years, Natalie was finally looking forward to stepping into a head staff position, while Naomi’s love for Israel was going to bring her back to begin a 12-week internship at the Forum for Jewish Leadership. Sadly, neither of their summers would turn out to be the one they had anticipated.

The news about COVID-19 unfolded quickly in March. “That night, I was writing an exam, walked out, and got an email that class isn’t going to be in person anymore” Naomi remembered, recalling her last night on campus. 

“The progression [of coronavirus] and the quick reaction of closures from universities was surreal,” Natalie added. Even in the moment, both understood and agreed with these decisions, concluding that “it had to be done.”

Instinctually, as best friends do, Naomi called Natalie that night to figure out what they’d do next. Having previously volunteered in the community through volunteering at telethons and fundraisers, they quickly went looking for ways they could serve others during the pandemic. With Passover quickly approaching, they joined UJA’s The Global Seder, and dedicated a day to packing kosher food needed to make a Passover seder possible for families in need around the GTA.

To their surprise, they found more of their friends from Western Hillel volunteering, along with many new faces. Natalie took special notice of how everyone was “genuinely happy to be outside and helping.” The feeling was so upbeat and positive that a fellow volunteer led a physically distanced yoga session for everyone in between shifts. It’s meaningful interactions like these that have helped some students get through this a gloomy time. 

Both Natalie and Naomi have found Jewish community and support through Hillel, even off-campus. Even though many of Hillel’s regular programming had to be adapted or canceled, “Hillel has been very good and has still found a way to help us” by bringing similar volunteering opportunities and staying focused on making meaningful community interactions online. “I’ve been making challah at home every Friday only because Leora posts and sends me the recipe,” added Natalie.

At Hillel, students are the inspiration and motivation for innovative programming, as this experience has illuminated. Although this summer couldn’t be filled with summer camp, shopping with friends, carnival games at the Ex, and traveling abroad, university students are continuously looking for meaningful experiences and interactions. While students continue to fill their spare time with reading, cooking, and for some, planning summer camp activities for their younger siblings, Hillel is hard at work planning programming for a year full of new ways to engage, build community and empower students to become strong Jewish leaders. “Even though I won’t be [at Western], I’ve gotten updates about next year and it makes me excited,” Natalie commented.

Looking to the fall, Natalie will be heading to Queen’s for medical school, and Naomi is preparing for her next year at Western. For now, they continue to build on their volunteerism and enjoy dedicating their time to helping those in need.

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