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Strengthening Jewish community on campus

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Hillel Waterloo students pose for a group photo. (Hillel Ontario photo)

What do you think about when Hillel on campus comes to mind? A Jewish student club? A drop-in Shabbat dinner? It’s a lot more than this, and has the potential to be a catalyst for a stronger Jewish community that resonates far beyond university campuses. This is why the Silber Family Foundation has come forward with a $1 million donation specifically to invest in talent at Hillel Ontario.

It’s rare in the non-profit sector to hear philanthropists talk about investing in people over program, but that is precisely what we are going to do. Extensive studies throughout the global Hillel movement consistently identify talent acquisition and development as the single greatest variable in meeting Hillel’s standard for excellence in student engagement.

Jewish engagement is not dependent on the quality of the food served at social events. Effective engagement is based on the relationship built with the person who greets students when they walk in the door. Our own research underscored how crucial this is to Hillel Ontario’s success. During strategic planning focus groups and interviews, the centrality of student relationships with Hillel campus professional emerged repeatedly.

With one exception, each of the nine universities within the Hillel Ontario system has more than 1,000 Jewish students on campus. We cannot possibly reach the number of students required to achieve excellence in student engagement and build meaningful relationships with solo professionals running an entire program. On many campuses across the province, that is the reality today.

READ: GEOGRAPHY FACULTY BOYCOTT HILLEL AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA

By growing our team of dedicated professionals, we are substantially increasing our capacity to meaningfully connect with students all across Ontario. The 2018-19 academic year will mark the first time in Hillel Ontario’s history that every campus will have at least two professionals serving their communities. Lower staff-to-student ratios will lead to an increase in the breadth of student engagement and substantially increase our capacity to meaningful connect with the majority of undergraduate Jewish students.

The impact of strengthened on-campus engagement means cultivating a culture for students to take ownership of their Jewish life and commitment to Israel. It strengthens their relationship with the broader Jewish community off campus and builds lasting bonds with their student peers that endure long after graduation. It will also foster stronger on-campus advocacy on the issues that face our community and strengthen the potential for Jewish representation in the broader university ecosystem.

To realize this vision, we will need passionate Jewish professionals who inspire students. However, this is not an end unto itself. Those same dedicated professionals on campus today can go on to serve our community in other ways in the years ahead. That is why the Silber family’s gift will be a catalyst for so much more for our community.

This gift will allow us to be a competitive employer within the non-profit sector, develop the best recruitment strategies and provide the resources to invest in the retention and ongoing development of our staff. Hillel Ontario is the first Hillel within the global movement to invest in a full-time talent professional who’s dedicated to improving workplace culture and professional development. That person’s impact will resonate throughout our entire community.

We intend to share our learning with the community and model best practices to elevate the Jewish communal profession as a whole. This gift has already inspired others to support the Silber family’s vision. It will be transformative for Hillel Ontario in the immediate future and catalyze long-term benefits for the Canadian Jewish community for many years to come.

Marc Newburgh is the CEO of Hillel Ontario.