TORONTO — The outstanding student leadership in Toronto is a testament
to the commitment of the Jewish community here to not only persevere,
but triumph in the face of adversity.
Hillel staff and students celebrated at the annual awards night. From left: Avihayil Genesove, Arie Frohlich, Tamara Winegust, Dave Cross, Rebecca Woods Baum, Esther Mendelsohn and Joel Silver. [Shaun Bernstein photo]
TORONTO — The outstanding student leadership in Toronto is a testament to the commitment of the Jewish community here to not only persevere, but triumph in the face of adversity.
“The events this year on campus were not business as usual,” Hillel Board president Allan Berdowski said at the 13th annual Hillel Awards Night on May 14. He cited the very public displays of anti-Semitism on college campuses, the anti-Zionist rhetoric used by students and organizations as its springboard. However, he also reminded attendees that this was a special year in which “to celebrate tenacity, pride and leadership” shown by both Jewish and non-Jewish students.
Despite the turmoil, including a three-month long strike of teaching assistants and contract faculty at York University, the 2008-2009 semester saw the launch of many new programs and initiatives that helped keep the Hillel spirit alive across all campuses.
This year marked the creation of the Jewish Life on Campus initiative, which, Berdowski said, “formed a strong partnership between Hillel and the Orthodox Union and attracted close to 200 students on a weekly basis.”
Other programs and events launched this past school year included a two-day UN rally retreat in New York City, the formation of Jew.ru to engage students of Russian heritage, the Israel Advocacy Program and a program in partnership with Hillel Israel to help Tibetan refugees in India. The Artzy Festival multimedia art exhibit was held at the Bata Shoe Museum for the second year, and a Yom Ha’atzmaut barbecue celebrating Israel’s 61st birthday “once again showed us the power of free food,” Berdowski said jokingly.
In his keynote speech, Hillel executive director Zac Kaye called this year’s events “a wake-up call to all of us involved in campus life.”
Kaye also spoke of “expanding Hillel’s vision” and praised the “unique entity” that is Hillel in the way it welcomes students and people of all races, ethnicities and religions, an example he hopes all organizations will follow in the future.
MCs Michal Brosh and Jeremy Bluvol provided light banter during the awards ceremony at Adath Israel Congregation and introduced the presenters for each of the 16 award categories, including campus awards for Ryerson University, Universiy of Toronto and York University; city awards; and the Singer-Lieberman Hadracha Award for leadership, which was given to seven students.
Among the students honoured with the leadership award was Ryan Leszner, one of three from the York campus. He was praised for his “mad musical skills, positive nature and passion for Jewish life.”
Current Hillel at York president Daniel Ferman received the Gropper Family Award for outstanding leadership as well as the Singer-Lieberman Hadracha Award.
Samahra Zatzman picked up the Prutschi Family Award for tzedek and social justice and the AEPi Award for partnership and outreach for her work on the Bathtub Project, which collects toiletries for shelters for battered women.