Dear parents and families of Western students: as the Hillel president at the University of Western Ontario for the 2013/14 school year, I want to take this opportunity to tell you my Hillel story, which began in the late summer of 2010.
I was moving to London, Ont., from Toronto to enter my first year at Western. I had a strong Jewish upbringing from my 12 years of Jewish schooling, six years at a predominantly Jewish camp and many years of involvement in my synagogue, where my great-grandfather, grandfather and uncles were founding members. At the time, I thought my Jewish identity – which was strongly based on my love of Judaism and the State of Israel – was complete and unlikely to develop even further.
Oh, was I wrong.
That first year, I was encouraged by some friends to join Hillel and subsequently became involved on the executive council as co-president of first-year students. Since then, I’ve held many different executive and council positions at Hillel.
When I first told my parents that I was becoming involved with Hillel, they were thrilled that I was going to continue my involvement with the Jewish community in London. As you may know, Western is home to a pluralistic community of approximately 3,000 Jewish students – many of whom are passionate about Judaism and Israel.
At Western Hillel, we are committed to providing meaningful Jewish experiences that serve the diverse needs and interests of the entire Jewish student population. Some of our latest initiatives fall under our new objective of bringing Hillel right to students themselves, and often, right to their front door!
Picture this scene: it’s the peak of exam season, and your son or daughter is exhausted due to countless nights studying late at the library. He or she feels under the weather and dreams of Bubbie’s chicken soup – the best kind of medicine – magically appearing at his or her front door. Well, before you can even say “matzah ball,” Hillel will deliver a container of homemade kosher chicken soup right to your child’s door, at no charge! Just sign up at www.westernhillel.com/csoo.
A second scene: you receive a call from your son or daughter complaining that his or her stress levels are through the roof. Worry no more. Hillel can help alleviate your child’s stress by providing them with an exam survival kit. Upon request, we’ll deliver a basket filled with exam essentials (pens, cereal, tea etc.) to your child’s residence.
Another program we carry out is Shabbat Across London (SAL). The goal is to conduct, on a single night, scores of Shabbat dinners among Jewish students in London. Groups or individuals who sign up to host dinners are given a package filled with Shabbat candles, two loaves of challah, a bottle of grape juice and a specially designed prayer book. Through SAL, Hillel provides students of all denominations and backgrounds with the tools and training to bring Shabbat into their own homes.
Last year, as Hillel’s vice-president of Jewish life, I was given the opportunity with others to plan and carry out one of the most successful Holocaust Education Week programs ever held at my university. Holocaust education and remembrance happens to be a cause very close to my heart, largely because three of my four grandparents are survivors with remarkable stories of fortitude and heroism. Without Hillel’s backing and encouragement, I would never have had the opportunity to pay tribute to my grandparents while also educating Western’s student population about the Holocaust and its lasting impact.
My involvement with Hillel during my first year at Western connected me with older Jewish students who had already grown accustomed to university life. Forming close friendships with these older Hillel members certainly eased my transition from Toronto to London.
For that reason, apart from our social, cultural, religious, charitable and Israel-related programming, my executive council and I will be focusing on increasing our outreach and engagement strategies. Based on my own experience, it’s easy to recognize the value of creating meaningful and personal relationships with both new and returning Jewish students.
For that reason, whatever your child’s passions or interests may be, the door of our Hillel House – conveniently located outside the university’s gates – is open at all times, filled with an experienced support network of professionals at your disposal.
Whether your son or daughter is looking for the means to safeguard the name of our indispensable State of Israel or the opportunity to preserve and enhance Jewish values and customs, Western Hillel is available to ensure that every Jewish student’s voice is heard on campus.
I look forward to the opportunity of welcoming your son or daughter to a new year at Western Hillel, one that’s sure to be fulfilling, productive and rewarding.