Hillel Ottawa is focused on ensuring the city’s campuses remain safe spaces for students in the wake of a summer of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, said Scott Goldstein, executive director of the organization that serves Jewish university and college students.
“We have things under control. We don’t know exactly what to expect for the coming year, but we’re preparing for the possibility of a negative environment on campus and we’re working very hard to make sure it’s not felt by the students,” Goldstein said.
Hillel will continue its efforts to support the estimated 1,500 Jewish students in Ottawa attending the University of Ottawa, Carleton University and Algonquin College by anticipating the students’ fears, needs and questions, and by liaising with administration, faculty and staff, he added.
At a recent Hillel Canada professional development day, Hillel staff from across the country brainstormed potential challenges students may face, and the responses and support systems Hillel would be able to provide them, said Donald Sylvan, executive director of Hillel Ontario.
“It is absolutely clear,” Sylvan said. “We see what is in the news, we understand the implications of the Israeli-Hamas war, and we understand that it is the world that our students returning to classes right now are experiencing.”
Hillel Ottawa has been collaborating with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa for additional support and advocacy. CIJA recently condemned the last-minute resolution by the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) to endorse the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.
“Throughout the year, we will continue to work closely with Jewish students who want to become more politically active on their local campus, because this is the single most important way in which we can push back against boycott activists,” said Judy Zelikovitz, CIJA’s vice-president of university and local partner services.
Both Goldstein and Sylvan said, while the recent CFS resolution is disappointing, they anticipate minimal impact on students and few – if any – schools following suit.
“I think this is a great example of why CFS is a shrinking organization,” Goldstein said. “So many university groups on campus are trying to de-federate from CFS. They have proven themselves to be a radicalized group that is not representing the average student on campus, Jewish or not.”
Goldstein said the opposite is true for Hillel, which has been working with Carleton this summer in the creation of a multi-faith, multi-cultural safe space room where students can relax, use kosher microwaves to heat up their meals, and express their views in a non-judgmental environment, similar to the atmosphere at Ottawa’s Hillel House at 284 Laurier Avenue East, near the University of Ottawa campus.
Among the many events Hillel Ottawa is planning for this semester are Shabbat dinners, the annual Chanukah ball, Holocaust Education Week programs and the political Israeli wine and Canadian cheese event run through Hillel’s Israel Awareness Committee.
Goldstein said he hopes Hillel’s message of student support, openness, non-judgment, and the need for dialogue among campus groups is clear during this unpredictable academic year.
“First and foremost, the strategy is to be there for our students,” he said. “The students really know that there is a safe space on campus, no matter what their thoughts, their political ideology is and tendencies are.”