WINNIPEG — Hillel Winnipeg is in the process of adopting a new leadership model that is intended to cast a wider net and attract more student participation.
“We are just beginning to implement our new approach,” says Hart Jacob, Hillel Winnipeg’s director. “Rather than having a formal structure with a formal executive, we are creating a number of micro committees – smaller interest groups under the Hillel umbrella.”
Jacob came up with the idea for the new direction last summer after attending the Hillel Leadership Institute in St. Louis. “This is a model that is being tried on some American campuses,” he says.
Last year, he points out, Winnipeg Hillel had a small group of core students who ran the organization. “They worked well together, but there was too much for them to do,” he says. “We believe that our new program will engage more students and expand student involvement.”
He reports that before starting on the new direction, he met with last year’s Hillel student leadership and solicited their views. “There was some hesitation about doing away with titles,” he says, “but, in the end, everyone was on board.”
One of the limitations that Hillel Winnipeg has faced over the years in attracting students, Jacob notes, is that Winnipeg’s two universities are commuter campuses. Students live at home rather than in university dormitories, unlike Queen’s University, he said, where there are a number of Jewish students in residence. The Winnipeg Jewish students have long-established friendships and aren’t looking to university to meet new people and make new friends.
The micro groups, he says, would be driven by students’ interests. For example, Jacob notes, young Chabad Rabbi Shmuley Altein comes to the University of Manitoba every Tuesday for a lunch-and-learn program studying Jewish religious texts with students under the Hillel banner.
“We also have an Israel advocacy group, a sports group, a Shabbat group and a social group established,” Jacob says. “And we have a social-action group in the works.”
He notes that the new approach should encourage students to focus more on their interests and take ownership of their groups. Each group would have a leader or contact person. Jacob’s role would be that of the co-ordinator providing support, resources and guidance to the different groups.
Jacob will continue to organize macro programs, such as visiting speakers from Israeli universities, and arrange for fellowships, scholarship and travel to Jewish-themed conferences for Jewish students on campus.
He estimates that there are between 600 and 800 Jewish students enrolled at the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg. Many of them are from families that have immigrated from South America, largely Argentina, and Israel in the last 10 years.
Jacob says the Russian/Israeli and South American-born students prefer to integrate with the Canadian-born students rather than form their own cultural groups.
“From the point of view of the larger group, it’s great having students from a different country and culture and perspective involved,” he adds. “They bring different ideas and excitement to our groups and programs.”