Last month, Hillel Ottawa unveiled Jewish U, a brand new learning program that has attracted a wide range of students – including myself – who are looking to embark on the next chapter of our Jewish journeys.
Jewish U takes place at Hillel House every Tuesday evening from January 17 to April 4 and is led by Rabbi Eytan Kenter, spiritual leader of Kehillat Beth Israel. After a hearty supper, we sit down each week to discuss contemporary issues in Judaism.
Dovi Chein, Hillel Ottawa’s student life co-ordinator, said that when he was first envisioning Jewish U, he had an initial meeting with Rabbi Kenter to iron out the details and was immediately impressed with his enthusiasm and down-to-earth personality.
Rabbi Kenter is a big believer in Jewish education in university because it allows students to think about Judaism from our own independent perspectives during a crucial time in our lives.
Chein said that he hopes the program will become a staple at Hillel each semester.
“To create a curriculum that will be interesting for both ends of the Jewish spectrum is an incredible task,” Chein said. “My hope for this program is that all the participants will leave each week feeling like they learned something about Judaism that they didn’t know or hadn’t thought about, and will actively think about their Judaism throughout the week.”
While this is the first time Hillel Ottawa has put together a Jewish learning program such as this, the Chabad Student Network has been running its Sinai Scholars program since 2009.
The Sinai Scholars program runs each semester (alternating semesters between Carleton University and the University of Ottawa) and is composed of eight classes, one trip and a final paper.
According to Rabbi Chaim Boyarsky, the Chabad Student Network director, “The purpose of Sinai Scholars is to give students a glimpse into the beauty of the Torah’s lessons and how they are practical and inspirational for them in their daily lives.”
Sinai Scholars uOttawa alumnus Valerie Sedlezky feels she grew a lot as a person through the program.
“I truly feel that I have gained insight as to what it means to be a Jew, both as an emerging adult and as a woman living in the 21st century,” she said. “We would openly debate topics [and we] questioned and doubted statements, which only furthered our discussions. To me, this is what it means to study religion; to dispute and debate ideas in order to encourage curiosity. These conversations resulted in a deeper personal understanding of Judaism. I felt as if I had challenged my previous ways of thought and found answers within the religion.”
In the hustle-bustle of daily student life, it can be tough to make time for Judaism, which tends to take a backseat during university for most people my age. This is a distinctly odd feeling for those of us who attended Jewish elementary school and/or high school.
These classes offer an opportunity to re-engage with that missing piece of what once was an integral part of our weekly routine and allow us to continue the never-ending journey we had started when we were younger.
And, for those who didn’t have the opportunity for any sort of formal Jewish education growing up, this could be an opportunity to learn what all the fuss is about, and to learn more about your people, your culture and yourself.
And, if you’re one of those people who hate the fact you were born Jewish, but have realized you can’t escape it because it’s such an integral part of who you are on the most microscopic of levels, these are perfect classes for you to challenge those beliefs, or alternatively, embrace them. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Ultimately, no matter where you fall on the Jewish spectrum, these classes offer something unique. After all, you’re never too old to learn.