Years ago, when our oldest child left the nest for the first time to attend summer school at Harvard between Grades 11 and 12, we were worried as parents as to how she would handle all the challenges of the big world.
We spoke to her the first Saturday night, and she was beaming. While her roommates had sat in the dorm, she had gone to Hillel on Campus, had Friday night dinner, and been invited to the rabbi’s for lunch. She told me it was the first time she realized that being Jewish meant she belonged to a “club.”
That is our main goal for Hillel Ottawa. To create a safe environment for Jewish students on campus to explore, learn about and strengthen their Jewish identities.
This has been a tough summer to be Jewish and a supporter of the State of Israel – even more so for a young generation bombarded by Facebook friends reposting anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric. As such, we are going to great lengths this term to create a safe environment on campus and at Hillel House. For our students, what went on this summer is complex and troubling, so we encourage them talk about their feelings and we endeavour to answer their questions.
Hillel Ottawa has two primary functions – Jewish engagement and Israel awareness – both of which must be balanced to optimize our success. To allow Jewish students to meet other Jewish students at the University of Ottawa, Carleton University and Algonquin College, we hold social events, Shabbat dinners, educational programming and hot lunches. We also engage in hands-on volunteering opportunities such as leadership development, Holocaust education, working with the homeless (Tikkun Olam) and parliamentary internships. These activities are open to all students as we strive to broaden our reach and encourage more students to make Jewish choices.
In terms of Israel awareness, we present Israel both to our students and to the broader campus. We support Israel and a two-state solution, and will continue to create venues to explore the whole range of ideas that fit under this umbrella. We work diligently to forge ties with other campus groups to enhance our ability to advocate on Israel’s behalf.
Our funding is derived from three sources. We are grateful to the Jewish Federation of Ottawa for its allocation and to CIJA, which provides funding from the national level. Our third source is fundraising. Our core funding allows us to provide a basic level of service. Fundraising allows us to broaden our reach and is dependent
on the generosity of our donors. Every dollar we raise is one more lunch, dinner, social event or educational event we can provide.
We have another special goal: to make sure our students see the Jewish community in Ottawa as a warm, welcoming and inclusive community so that they will consider staying in Ottawa post-graduation, setting up roots in the community and helping to strengthen our Jewish community.
Our main tools to do this are making sure students have access and feel welcome at community events, home hospitality on Shabbat and holidays and mentoring for those looking for information on and contacts in the job market.
What an amazing opportunity this year when U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman and his wife Vicki hosted 10 students for a meal on Rosh Hashanah. We thank them for their generosity and kindness.
We are striving to give our students the best, and we would welcome any support the community can give our organization.