What a Year
Written by Adir Krafman, Associate Director of Advocacy and Strategic Communications, Hillel Ontario
What a year it has been! York University has a special place in the hearts of members of our Jewish community. The university admits the largest number of Jewish students of any university in Ontario in a given year, and was the first university to open an interdisciplinary research centre in Jewish Studies. York is also home to one of the most diverse Jewish student populations.
Every time I visited the Hillel lounge at the student centre, the room was abuzz with so many different conversations – sometimes several at the same time. I overheard vibrant discussions and vigorous debates about everything under the sun from politics and religion to culture and sport. Sitting near the big couches, I learned how quickly “Well, the Mishna says…” can turn into “Did you hear what Drake said?!?”
Hillel at York’s program calendar, accordingly, reflected this diversity: Movie nights, lunches, lectures, visits by members of parliament, full-house appearances like the inspirational Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and my personal favourite, a giant inflatable Hanukkah photo-booth. There was something for everyone.
York has been at the forefront of our collective consciousness for other reasons as well. Indeed, we have faced challenges with the climate of hostility towards supporters of Israel on campus, and the decline in the university’s reputation as a safe and desirable choice for Jewish students. This year I saw more Jewish student leaders from a variety of organizations and student groups putting their political differences aside and working hand in hand to combat BDS and engage positively with the campus community. Most notably, the production of “The Last of Us”, a display of solidarity between the Jewish and Assyrian communities had a lasting impact. The evening event featured a Jewish-Iraqi refugee and a prominent activist for the Assyrian community.
It is incumbent on us to continue to support our student leaders in their advocacy work, but we must never lose sight of their other initiatives. In addition to the extra time and effort put in to fight anti-Semitism and stand up for Israel, these students work day and night so that their peers may have a place to celebrate Jewish life and explore their own Jewish identities – and that is something we should all be proud of.