After a brief hiatus, Hillel is back in business on Winnipeg’s two university campuses under a new director, former Torontonian Arielle Branitsky.
Last spring, following the end of university classes, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg temporarily shut down the universities’ Hillel program. In an interview last month, federation CEO Elaine Goldstine said her organization was reassessing the program.
“We want to make sure that the money we are spending on Hillel is being put to good use,” Goldstine said. “Attendance at the programs has not been very good. One of the challenges for Hillel in Winnipeg has always been that there have been very few Jewish students living in residence.
“We have been meeting with a number of students over the past few months to get input from them as to what kind of programs they would like to see.”
One of the options considered was hiring a new Hillel director on a part-time basis during the school year from September through April.
That issue has been resolved by hiring Branitsky as both Hillel director and outreach consultant for the Jewish community as a whole, a position that was originally created four years ago, but had been vacant for the past year.
Branitsky has an extensive history in Jewish community service. She has an undergraduate degree from York University (2008) and two master’s degrees (2014), one in religion and one in Jewish non-profit management – from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.
Her resume includes a stint teaching at Holy Blossom Temple’s religious school, office manager at URJ Camp George, USD/Hagshama Ontario regional director – all in Toronto – and, most recently, serving as Hillel Atlantic Canada’s director of Jewish student life.
Based in Halifax for the past two years, Branitsky was responsible for Jewish student programming at 10 universities – with a total of about 500 Jewish students – throughout the Maritime provinces.
“Despite Winnipeg’s reputation as a cold place, the people I have met so far have been warm and welcoming,” Branitsky said of her new home.
“I know that Winnipeg’s Jewish community has a long history. I am excited about being here.”
Branitsky officially starts as Hillel Director Oct. 19. Her first order of business, she said, will be meeting students and getting to know what kind of programming they’d like to see.
“I want to help students understand Hillel’s mission and how we can work for them,” she says.
She estimates there are about 500 Jewish students attending university in Winnipeg at the University of Winnipeg or the University of Manitoba.
She said Hillel will continue to work closely with the Jewish student associations on the two university campuses.
The difference between the two services, she explained, is that Hillel is an arm of the Jewish federation that provides programming, whereas the student associations represent students in direct dealings with the university administrations.
In her other role as outreach consultant, Branitsky will be helping to connect young Jewish families through administering the PJ Library Jewish literacy program.
She will also be working with other federation staff and synagogues to create community-wide programs.
“I am looking forward to be working in a team environment,” she said.