by Elana Moscoe and Shira Druker, Special to The CJN, Wednesday, December 17, 2014
At a time when we are hearing that it’s difficult for Jewish students on some campuses, and on a campus that has not always been known as a friendly gathering place for Jews, Queen’s University Hillel is a great success story. The number of participants in our programs is at a record high, and the enthusiasm is palpable.
Queen’s University historically has a (relatively) good reputation when it comes to providing a safe space for Jewish students. As the home of the first Hillel House in Canada, established in 1941, its number of Jewish students has never been tremendously large, but their presence has been significant. There have been legitimate issues at Queen’s and incidents of anti-Semitism, but in the early 1940s when much of the country’s institutions had anti-Semitic policies, Queen’s, for the most part, managed to buck this disturbing trend. Though the history of Jewish students at Queen’s is long, what is happening now is unlike anything Kingston has seen before. The past few years has seen the number of Jewish students coming to Queen’s increase markedly.
We each came to Kingston trying to find our place. Being from Vancouver and Ottawa, we were each excited, if initially a bit overwhelmed, and found Hillel to be a natural fit. The relationships we created through Hillel gave us the confidence and support to embrace new leadership roles. One of the reasons that Hillel is such a growing success here at Queen’s is because of the dedication and selfless commitment of our cadre of 40 student volunteers. This student-led model of leadership gives us the freedom to take on new projects, ones that enable students to express their Judaism in a fun, creative and engaging way. We are excited by some of the new initiatives that our exec members have implemented this year including an interfaith bake sale to raise money for the Kingston Youth Homeless Shelter, a “Camp Style Havdallah service” held in co-operation with Chabad as part of the worldwide Shabbat Project, and a Turbo Kick fitness class.
Along with these new initiatives, we have also continued to reach out to the community-at-large through events such as our Holocaust Education Week and planting daffodils with a local public high school to educate them about the horrors of the Shoah.
We were proud to witness hundreds of Jewish first year students parading down Union Street toward the Hillel house for our annual Frosh Bagel Brunch, and prouder still to welcome 300 people to our Rosh Hashanah dinner, exceeding our wildest expectations. We also had more than 700 students attend a pro-Israel party sponsored by Hillel and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs at a time when some believe that being pro-Israel is not common on Canadian campuses. To keep up with this growth, Arbel Sabag, our Israel fellow, has joined us, bringing with her Israeli energy and providing our students with Hebrew and Israeli programming, culture and other tools to help advocate for the Jewish state on campus.
It may sound like a cliché, but it’s true; Hillel promotes a sense of community and camaraderie and, yes, even a sense of family. The true impact that Hillel makes on people can be seen by the ongoing commitment demonstrated by its alumni. This year we are incredibly grateful for the donations and guidance from those who have come before us, who have made it possible to eliminate membership fees, making Hillel even more accessible to new people. We are proud of our great semester and look forward to our continued growth. We now have a vibrant, thriving Jewish student community that is charting its own, exciting course. Not bad for a campus that once hosted just a handful of Jewish students.
Elana Moscoe and Shira Druker are co-presidents of Queen’s Hillel.
See more at: http://www.cjnews.com/campus/hillel-spearheads-jewish-renaissance-queen%E2%80%99s#sthash.qrRACpXb.dpuf