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!

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.

Dear Western Hillel … Thank you!

Dear Western Hillel … Thank you!

Since I first arrived at Western as a nervous and excited first-year student, I was in awe of what Hillel was able to do for Jewish students on campus. From the welcome back barbecue to the wide array of speakers brought in throughout the year, I felt that Hillel did a great job of engaging Jewish students. I was eager to get involved with Hillel, applied for a position as a first-year executive, and the following year, applied for VP Jewish life. During those two years, I saw the great potential this organization had for programming, education, and engagement, and did my best to share Hillel’s mission with as many of my peers as possible. However, it wasn’t until last March when I was elected president that I was able to truly see the incredible impact Hillel has on Western’s students.

Looking back on this year, I am blown away by what our organization has been able to achieve in the seemingly short time since September. We began our year with a strong focus on easing the first years’ transition into university life. After move-in day, dedicated student leaders showed up in every residence hall with packages containing food, drinks, and other items to help the first-year students get settled. The first semester passed in a whirlwind of new Hillel programming, including our group workout classes (Shvitz with Hillel), our monthly challah bakes and sales whose proceeds went to supporting the London Jewish community (Bake a Change), and many brand new Holiday-focused programs that brought the comfort of the high holidays at home to London, Ontario. One event highlight was our first-ever Hillel coffee house where students had the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of an audience. Our Shabbat across London—where students had the opportunity to host others at their home for Shabbat dinner—was also a huge success, thanks to the hard work of our student leaders. The second semester brought with it lots of interesting programs, including a full Holocaust education week featuring a live testimony from a Holocaust survivor in front of over 200 students. I was, and still am, so impressed with the effort the Hillel leadership has put into the programming this year, and I can’t wait to see all the amazing things they will continue to achieve in the future! 

I am so grateful to the rest of the Hillel executive team as well as the staff, who sat through countless meetings to ensure that we succeeded in our mission of supporting every Jewish student at Western. I hope that over this year I was able to leave my mark on Hillel and that each person who attended any of our events or participated in our programs left feeling that there were people on campus looking out for them. My goal this year was to share Hillel’s message with as many people as possible. I wanted the rest of the students to benefit as much from what Hillel has to offer as I have over my three years at Western. I hope that in the future, Hillel continues to expand its reach to more and more students, and can bring that feeling of comfort and belonging to the entire Western Jewish community.

Written By: Natalie Urbach