TORONTO — Ryerson University and the University of Western Ontario are part of a five-campus pilot program launched by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and Hillel International to bring a “more holistic picture of Israel” to North American campuses.
Launched last month, the initiative, called Israel Engaged Campus, will involve the two universities mentioned above and three American schools – University of California San Diego, Philadelphia’s Temple University, and George Washington University in Washington, D.C. – all of which will serve as “testing grounds” for plans to reach wider circles of Jewish and non-Jewish students.
“I always hoped that we could establish a very impactful relationship with Israel across all the parts of campus,” said Donald Sylvan, executive director of Hillel Ontario.
“That has been very difficult, because we haven’t had the focus, we haven’t had the resources, we haven’t had the personnel, but now the kinds of ideas that we have can really move the ball forward on Israel engagement. We can actually have campus communities as well as the Jewish students within those campuses establish a more comprehensive relationship with Israel than could ever have been possible before we undertook this.”
Hillel of Greater Toronto has hired four Israel Campus Engagement (ICE) student interns at Ryerson who will work to build relationships with Jewish and non-Jewish students in their faculties. Each is responsible for engaging 25 students. From that group, five to 10 students will be asked to take part in a monthly educational program and develop an initiative that connects their field of study to Israel, and to make it accessible to a broader student audience.
“Even though I will engage Jewish and non-Jewish students on campus, my ultimate goal is to engage those who don’t see Israel as a contributor to the field of social work,” said Rebecca Katzman, a social work student at Ryerson and one of the four interns. “Although this internship is not about politics, I want people who are not Jewish, or do not know much about Israel to realize that Canada and Israel have many similarities in our beliefs and in the way they treat their citizens.”
Katzman said she’s excited to build on the number of faculty and students with links to Israel. “When I attended the Ryerson Student Union meeting last year to vote against the endorsement of the [boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign], a greater presence of faculty and students who sided with Israel would have been instrumental.”
The four student interns represent four different fields: social work, child and youth care, business and law, and graphic communications management.
Lior Cyngiser, Hillel’s director of Israel engagement, education and advocacy said that at Ryerson, where students are professionally focused, the program will “give students networking opportunities and growth in their profession as well as the opportunity to integrate their connection with Israel into their professional lives.”
Sylvan said that over the past year and a half, he’s met with JAFI and Hillel International leaders and convinced them that Canadian campuses were a good fit for the three-year pilot program. “We had one that we put forth in our argument as the paradigm for an urban commuter campus – and that’s the Ryerson one, [while] Western… is the paradigm for a residential campus that is not in a large urban area,” Sylvan said.
Sylvan added that while the interns in Ryerson and Western have the same goal, “they have to have a different personality, because the campuses are so different.”
He said he expects to see the program at every Ontario university. “We have the infrastructure, so it’ll be easy… we can seamlessly integrate this when we learn lessons.”