TORONTO — Amir Gissin, consul general of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada, was received by a roomful of applause at the 16th annual Hillel Student Awards ceremony last week.
The message that garnered the enthusiastic cheers was no doubt something the students wanted to hear: “Don’t get old too quickly,” he said. “For the moment you’ll be more successful if you continue to be wild.”
Gissin was called to the podium in the packed basement of the University of Toronto’s Wolfond Centre for Jewish Campus Life to receive the Founding Friend of the Campus Award. This honour, reserved for those who have made an outstanding contribution to Jewish student life, was also bestowed on Allen Berg, the sponsor of the Harvey’s Table affordable kosher meals on campus initiative.
The student winners of the evening came from campuses across Toronto, including York University, U of T, Ryerson University, George Brown College and OCAD University. This past year saw a marked growth in Jewish student involvement particularly at Ryerson and George Brown, both schools with fewer Jewish students.
“It’s a privilege to meet and work with such amazing students that we have here in Toronto,” said Lindy Goodman, the outgoing chair of the board of directors of Hillel of Greater Toronto. She spoke at the beginning of the ceremony, along with the organization’s executive director Zac Kaye and student MCs Isaac Kates Rose and Polina Isakharova.
All the speakers expressed enthusiasm about Hillel’s recent initiative to reach out to both Jewish and non-Jewish students and groups on campus in an effort to create a more inclusive and co-operative campus environment. “Today we see the result of that,” said Gissin, referring to the importance of this kind of outreach. “We see the results in every campus. We see the decline of those who are working against us.”
Some of the awards presented for these new initiatives include the Chefs for Peace Award, won by Maxa Sawyer, Avram Heisler, Lisa Wilder, Ishraq Alim, Eitan Gilboord and Mitch Reiss; the Black Jew Dialogue Award, won by Christopher Better, Johann Keens and Mitch Reiss, and the TGIF Award, won by Ishraq Alim and Marty Rotenberg.
Hillel of Greater Toronto has also been making efforts to expand its reach within the Jewish community, with new programs for Russian Jews, Israelis and Jewish students interested in media and the arts.
Some awards given for the first time this year include the Julie M. Gallery Emerging Jewish Artist Fellowship, awarded to Dov Smiley, Rebecca Ihilchik, Liat Shalom,
Shlomi Amiga and Dorona Zierler, as well as the Top Score Media Fellowship, awarded to Alan Hudes.
Toward the end of the ceremony, Shelly Feld, the incoming chair of the board of directors, presented the Outstanding Alumni Award to former York U student Ryan Levey. Feld emphasized the importance of staying involved in the Jewish community after graduation and of continuing to make a meaningful contribution to Jewish life as an adult.
“This is a first and early step in your journey,” he said to the award winners in the audience, “but we hope you will stay involved.”