Hillel Ottawa, the community organization serving Jewish students at the University of Ottawa, Carleton University and Algonquin College, has two new staff members in place for the new academic year including a new Jewish student life coordinator and, for the first time, an Israel fellow.
Dovi Chein, in his third year as director of Hillel Ottawa after previously serving as Jewish student life coordinator, said the organization has been going through a transformation over the past few years, which has “resulted in a lot of challenges, as well as great outcomes,” including, for the first time, three full-time staff.
“We all have very high expectations and hopes and we have some pretty daunting goals,” Chein said. “We are really trying to transform the Jewish experience for students while they are in Ottawa and help build the connection they have with Judaism.”
The new Jewish student life coordinator is Sasha Kathron, an Ottawan who earned her undergraduate in behavioural psychology at Saint Lawrence College. After completing internships at a youth rehabilitation centre and a young offender’s correctional facility, Kathron spent 10 months teaching in Israel.
As Jewish student life coordinator, some of Kathron’s responsibilities include engaging with and bringing students to Hillel, planning events, facilitating positive interactions with Judaism and “making sure everyone is having a good time.”
Kathron said the Hillel has some “pretty big” goals this year, such as increasing engagement with students.
“I hope that I can bring people to Hillel, and they will have the same love of Judaism and Ottawa’s Jewish community that I have,” Kathron said. “I think [the staff] all agree that we want Hillel and the Hillel House to feel like a second home for everyone.”
Tomer Dayagi is the new Israel fellow for the Jewish Agency at Hillel, a new position this year. Sarah Beutel, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s vice-president of community building, said Hillel Ottawa received a one-time grant of $7,500 from Federation’s Innovation and Capacity Building Fund in order to help fund the position of Israel fellow.
Dayagi, who comes from Tel Aviv, is finishing his bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy at Tel Aviv University, and served in the Israel Defense Forces for nearly five years.
Chein says the Israel Fellow Program is meant to be a catalyst for building one-on-one relationships with students, creating engaging Israel-themed programming, working with non-Jewish students to destigmatize what it means to be Israeli, and working to combat the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement on campus.
Dayagi said his role at Hillel Ottawa is to offer an Israeli point of view.
“I don’t represent Israel; I represent myself. But because I’m an Israeli, I give one more angle on the Israeli experience,” Dayagi said. “My goal is not to change everyone’s mind completely, but to make them realize the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is a very complex issue, and Israeli society has a variety of interesting things to talk about.”
Hillel Ottawa has also announced that Dorothy Stern, a professor of interior design at Algonquin College, has been appointed chair of its community advisory board.
Stern said after spending so much time teaching students at Algonquin and Humber Colleges, she was open to further involvement with students.
“So when [Federation President and CEO] Andrea Freedman asked if I would like to chair the board at Hillel, I said ‘sure,’” said Stern.
The role of chair is a big responsibility, said Stern. “I’ve had several meetings with Dovi, who gives me a lot of support and helps me to understand the big picture at Hillel. I’ve been thinking very carefully about fundraising and I’m trying to understand the details,” she explained.
“It’s my first time being chair of a board, but I hope I can do a good job and motivate people who want to get involved and support Hillel, and not just be on the board,” she said.