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Sunday, December 28, 2014

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Hillel recognizes Toronto student leaders

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Zac Kaye

Hillel of Greater Toronto hosted its 17th annual student awards ceremony on May 13 at the Schwartz/Reisman Centre, celebrating the achievements over the 2012-13 academic year of various groups and individuals from across Toronto’s campuses.

The format of this year’s awards night recognized two forms of success; those who demonstrated excellence in leadership during the past year, in addition those who completed one of Hillel’s nine different internship and fellowship programs, said Rabbi Aaron Katchen, Hillel of Greater Toronto’s associate executive director. 

The excellence in leadership awards included both individual and group categories, given to various students and Hillel-affiliated groups that have helped to promote Hillel’s goals.

“We noticed a real theme of leadership come out of this year, as far as interaction with the students,” Katchen said. “It’s not that these are the best, but they exemplify and they help us tell our story of what is Hillel and what is the impact of Hillel on the students, and on the wider community.”

Group recipients of the award included new Jewish sorority Alpha Kappa Nu, York Students for Israel, the Women’s Leadership Network, the University of Toronto’s outgoing Hillel student board, and the Toronto Jewish Grad Network.

This year’s edition also featured the inaugural Zac Kaye Rising Leadership Award, which was created to honour the imminent retirement of Hillel of Greater Toronto’s executive director.

The award was given to eight students not necessarily on Hillel’s executive board, but who have shown leadership potential in their first year of involvement with Hillel, Katchen said.

Hillel’s Partner Award was given to seven different groups and individuals whose work with Hillel has helped to advance the mission of Jewish students.

One of the recipients was Ruth Johnson, not in attendance, who was one of two York Federation of Students board members that voted in March against the successful resolution to endorse the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

Another winner was Doron Mardirossian, president of the Armenian Student Association at Ryerson University, who had supported a motion for the Ryerson Students’ Union to stay neutral in issues of world politics.

“It’s very important to us not to operate in isolation,” said Kaye, who called it a “priority” to foster relationships with other groups on campus.

“We’re not living in a ghetto, in the Hillel lounge at York or in the building at U of T,” he said.

“We’re out there. One way to counter [anti-Israel sentiments] is to build those relationships and to share with different faith groups and people from different ethnic groups.”

Other award categories included the Founding Friend of Campus Award; the Alumni Award, won by author Sidura Ludwig; and the Israel Advocacy Award.

Prior to the award presentations, the evening kicked off with an art gallery exhibit, featuring the Judaism-themed artwork of those who had completed Hillel’s Julie M. Gallery Emerging Jewish Artist Fellowship.

Such programs were funded in large part by an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant of $106,000 over two years, according to Jennifer Diamond, director of Hillel’s York Region initiative. Diamond said the grant was awarded to Hillel to help expand its presence in York Region where so many of its students live.

The programs, such as the Hillel’s engagement internships, were particularly beneficial for the participants, Katchen said.

“Here we’ve given a group of students a high level of education and training, given them confidence in their identity whether it’s around Israel or Judaism, to then be able to go out and talk about it with other people,” Katchen said.

“It’s not about going out and being the rabbi on campus. It’s about them authentically understanding who they are, why this matters to them, and why it should matter to somebody else.”

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