Hillel Ottawa prepares for new academic year on campuses

By Michael Regenstreif, Editor

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Hillel Ottawa – which serves Jewish students attending the University of Ottawa, Carleton University and Algonquin College – is preparing for a year unlike any other.

Among the changes this year is the appointment of Sasha Kathron to the position of Hillel director after two years as the organization’s student life coordinator.

“My main job as student life coordinator was to find and engage new students on campus and plan events,” said Kathron, “while now I’m more behind-the-scenes dealing with logistics, faculty and finances.”

Kathron, who grew up in Ottawa and holds an honours bachelor of behavioural psychology degree from St. Lawrence College, spent a year teaching English in Israel before returning to Canada to begin work at Hillel Ottawa.

With university classes primarily taking place online this coming academic year, Kathron explained that most Hillel programs will also be taking place virtually, “with the exception of one-on-one coffee dates with students. For now, we can still do those safely and socially distanced, outside on patios. But, for now, all group events will be online.”

However, Kathron noted, Hillel Ottawa will periodically review protocols and advice from experts with a view to resuming in-person events when it becomes safe to do so.

“This year, Hillel Ottawa is going to face a lot of unique challenges,” she continued. “Hillel Ottawa is a community and the reason we exist is to foster relationships between Jewish students – so it’s going to be really interesting to navigate that in an online world.”

Large Shabbat dinners, always a staple of Hillel programming, cannot take place for the time being, Kathron explained. So, Hillel will provide students with Shabbat-to-go boxes so they will still be able to enjoy a traditional Shabbat dinner.

According to Kathron, the pandemic has also opened up unique opportunities for programming collaboration with Hillels in other cities. “For example, we can partner with other Hillels to have a guest speaker that [on our own] we would usually not have access to.”

One of the effects of the COVID-reality that Kathron has noticed is an increased number of new and returning students who are seeking Hillel out. With students isolated, “the need for community began to rise and people really realized that having those connections is so important.

“So, this year, more than any other year, we have students reaching out to us – which is very cool – who are eager to get involved,” she said.

Hillel Ottawa’s kickoff event will be an online trivia night on Thursday, September 10, during which Hillel’s other upcoming events and programs for the semester will be announced. For information on the event, visit the Hillel Ottawa Facebook page.

Two others have joined Kathron on the Hillel Ottawa staff for this year.

Einat Livni has stepped into Kathron’s former position as student life coordinator, a job she already has experience at.

“I am super-excited to be the new student life coordinator of Hillel Ottawa for the 2020-2021 school year,” Livni said. “I have just graduated from the University of Manitoba as a bachelor of commerce. During my time there, I was the student life coordinator for Hillel Winnipeg for three years.”

The new advocacy coordinator is Shaked Karabelnicoff, who brings several years of advocacy experience as a student to the job.

“I’m so excited to be joining the Hillel staff team as advocacy coordinator,” said Karabelnicoff. “Over the last three years, I have loved being a student participant and volunteer at Hillel and Israel on Campus in Ottawa. Both of these organizations have played a huge part in my university experience. Now, I’ll be using my past experiences, including as president of Israel on Campus, to help me take on a new and exciting role as a staff member. I can’t wait to bring fun, engaging and educational programs and initiatives to students this year! Although our events will be online, I am confident that our incredible team of Hillel staff will still make this schoolyear one to remember.”

Visit the Hillel Ottawa website or Facebook page, or call 613-236-2345 for more information about Hillel Ottawa.

Photo: (From left) Hillel Ottawa staff members Sasha Kathron, Shaked Karabelnicoff and Einat Livni are properly masked and ready to welcome Jewish students back to campus.