What Hillel and Holocaust Education Week Mean to Me

by | Nov 23, 2019 | Jewish Life at UofT | 0 comments

Written By: Rachel Cohen

My name is Rachel Cohen and I’m a Hillel Student Leader in my fourth year of study at the University of Toronto. I’ve been involved with Hillel since I was in first year, and have loved being a part of their leadership structure. It’s given me the ability to take part in the planning processes of events such as Model Knesset with Israeli students, orientation week festivities and volunteering with other organizations, such as The House. Last year I hosted a panel discussion at Hart House entitled the Rise of White Supremacy and Hate Groups in Canada. It was a stellar evening, as we heard from five distinguished panelists and continued the interesting discussion, even after the event came to a close.

Planning educational talks has been one of my favourite parts of being involved in Hillel’s leadership structure. It promotes an open dialogue of difficult topics in a safe and dynamic environment. When Rabbi Julia Appel came to me at the beginning of this schoolyear with the idea of executing an event centred around Holocaust education, I was thrilled.

Over the course of three months this fall, the project took flight. The event was to be centred around Daniel Panneton, the Programs and Education Assistant at the Sarah & Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and the curator of The Paradox: Free Speech and Holocaust Denial in Canada. As an emerging historian, Daniel planned to discuss, “Holocaust Denial in Post Truth Era.”

We recently observed the 39th Annual Holocaust Education Week at the beginning of November. This year the theme of Sarah & Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre’s week at the beginning of november was, “Here and Now.” Multidisciplinary programming throughout the GTA illuminated the relevance of Holocaust education to Canadians as we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century. It was both timely and necessary to have these discussions and to examine these atrocities.

We planned the event as part of an extended Holocaust Education Week to remember the six million Jews who perished. The event was personal to all of us—it was personal to me. In a reflection I wrote after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, just over a year ago, I said this:

“I’m proud of my 95-year-old grandmother, Ruth Cohen, who sailed to North America in 1930 and created a new life in Montreal. I’m also proud of my family who remained in Radomsko, Poland. They died at the hands of the Nazis in Auschwitz-Birkenau. While my grandmother was lining up for primary school, my ancestors were lining up for the gas chambers.”

My grandmother left Poland long before the war, but her aunts and cousins stayed. As a descendent of victims of the Holocaust, I’m thankful to have a voice and platform such as Hillel, to honour their memory.

On November 19th, 2019, the event was held at the Wolfond Centre. Due to the time of year, students were stacked with assignments, so I was concerned (as always), about numbers, but the audience turnout was perfect. About fifty students, staff and community members attended the evening.

Holocaust memory is at a turning point. At a time when the last survivors are passing away, anti-Semitism and intolerance are rising at home and abroad. We face an anxious future without the presence of survivors to remind us of the past. So, throughout the event, we considered the questions:

  • How is Holocaust memory changing in this context?
  • What can we do to prevent the spread of hatred and Holocaust denial?
  • Seventy-five years later, why should Canadians, especially young Canadians, learn about the Holocaust? Two generations later, why does it still matter?

With the help of Hillel staff members and students, as well as my friends who are allies of the Jewish community on campus, the event went off without a hitch. Daniel’s presentation was both interesting and thought provoking, as it sparked a lively discussion over the dessert reception post-event.

In the aftermath, as the dust settled and newly appointed Senior Director, Rob Nagus and I cleaned up— I couldn’t help but think how lucky I am to have such great support from my peers and mentors on campus. While the event was based around educating others, I feel as though I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have learned so much in the process of designing these projects. This is knowledge that I will hold with me even after I (sadly) leave Hillel and the university this coming spring.

My Hillel Highlights

My Hillel Highlights

My name is Joel Kahn, and I’m currently studying Engineering Science at UofT. I love being involved with Hillel and meeting other Jewish students on campus. My favourite experiences with Hillel this year have been attending the many events put together by my fellow Jewish students. Here are my top three:

1) Ultimate Pong Tournament

Going out to play some board games and attending a (non-alcoholic) “beer” pong competition at the Wolfond Centre was not only fun, but facilitated a lot of networking among the young Jewish UofT community. I will admit, though, that my friend Ryan and I lost in our very first round of the pong tournament, since we faced an excellent opponent. The hanging out over drinks while watching the finals was worth it as the competition subsequently heated up under a fantastic soundtrack by the DJ.

2) Out of Sync

Out of Sync was overall a very successful fundraiser! For those who don’t know, Out of Sync is an initiative to raise money for campus Hillels by encouraging the community to donate supporting students in an intercampus talent competition. This year, Hillel Ontario succeeded in raising over one hundred sixty thousand dollars to support local Hillels! I know I’ll be excited to see what new events I and other students manage to create with these vital funds, including supporting continuing events such as the Shabbat dinners hosted by Hillel every month.

3) Interfaith Shabbat Dinner

An Interfaith Shabbat dinner was put on earlier this semester, to which I brought some of my non-Jewish friends. Acting as co-table-leaders with my friend David, we were able to give others insight into our personal Jewish experiences, which many of the non-Jewish students sitting around the table hadn’t ever heard about. Many of my friends didn’t know about the traditions of Kiddush (blessing over the wine), washing our hands, and making a blessing over bread before starting our meal. Throughout dinner, we answered questions about keeping kosher, how Jewish traditions have changed from the times of the Temple in Jerusalem to today, and our favourite Jewish songs. Answering their questions and hosting conversations about what religion means to us was tremendously rewarding.

Coming up, my friend Ryan and I are planning a blood drive event for Hillel students to help those in need, currently planned for the end of March. People occasionally think about giving blood, but may be too busy or nervous to actually go out and give. We hope that a lot of people will sign up and help make this a success, so here I am early promoting it! If you choose to sign up for this event, I give my thanks. I’d also like to thank my selfless peers who have worked so hard to plan community events this year that have provided me so many good memories with my Jewish friends. I can’t wait to attend more exciting events this year!

Prioritizing Mental Health

Prioritizing Mental Health

Written by Netta Halevy

My name is Netta Halevy, I am currently a Life Science student at the University of Toronto. I am so excited to be a Hillel Student Leader this year and can’t wait for all the amazing events and opportunities this year will bring. With midterms coming to an end and exams quickly approaching I know how easy it is to become overwhelmed with all the schoolwork and extra curriculars, however it is vital to remember to prioritize yourself and your mental health. U of T has a lot of resources to talk to someone if you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed. I know that is often difficult to make the decision whether to study for an extra hour or go and talk to someone about mental health. What if you could do both in the same building?

On December 4th, 2019 Hillel U of T will host a day long Study Jam filled with opportunities to work productively, talk openly about mental health, meet new people, and play with dogs. Whether you’re a silent studier or like to discuss your work, there will be rooms in accordance to your preference that you can choose. There will be notebooks, pens and whiteboards available for you in order to fit your study requirements as needed. There will be plenty of food, snacks, and drinks so you can remain as comfortable as possible while still working efficiently. There will also be blankets available so you can remain as comfortable as possible while working.

Hillel will be hosting group counselling sessions at two different times so that as many students that would like to attend will have the opportunity to do so. You can also come talk to our therapists who will facilitate and lead group discussions about mental health. Therapy dogs will also be coming to Hillel to relieve any stress or anxieties you might be feeling from studying all day. If you’re looking to take a group study break there will also be board games and puzzles to give yourself a break from studying but still be actively using your brain.

Come out and meet people, discuss what you’re studying, do your readings, play with some cute dogs and enjoy some snacks. How you choose to spend this event is completely up to you! All in all, I planned this event because I understand firsthand how stressful exam time can be. Hillel wants everyone to know that they are supported and cared for. I can’t wait to see you there!

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