Written by Idan Bergman, Student Board Member, Hillel University of Toronto
The Torah instructs us to pay special attention to those in our midst who are in need. As Jewish students on campus, we have a responsibility to look beyond our campus community to assist these individuals. Furthermore, it is essential that we foster relationships with other religious groups around us. This past semester, I joined Hillel UofT in spearheading several initiatives committed to social justice and inter-religious dialogue in the downtown area.
One notable project we ran was a multi-faith “Street Patrol” in collaboration with the Newman Catholic Centre at the University. On a chilly November night, Jewish and Catholic students came together to prepare sandwiches to hand out to the homeless. Working together was a rare opportunity to meet like-minded individuals of another faith.
Before we hit the streets, I lead a short discussion on the importance of charity in the Jewish tradition. After discussing these topics with the Catholic students, we found many philosophical similarities between Judaism and Catholicism that were not apparent to any of us beforehand. These new understandings have helped me become more sensitive to other cultures that seemingly share many similar worldviews as Judaism, and also highlighted some differences. I understood how unique Jewish tradition is, and how prominent it is in my own life.
We headed down to Yonge and Dundas and handed out the sandwiches to several homeless individuals. We spoke at length with several of these people, but one stood out for me. He recounted to us the challenges that he faces on a nightly basis trying to find a warm spot during the winter, and pleaded with us to help him and others receive more warm clothing and sleeping bags for the upcoming cold months. I took this request much to heart, and decided to answer these calls by setting up a warm clothing drive at Hillel. Several weeks later, our clothing bin was filled, and will soon be handed over to Ve’ahavta for distribution to the homeless.
These projects are a wonderful opportunity to engage Jewish students with several core Jewish values. Hillel continues to be an important platform for facilitating Jewish identity. As a student leader, I personally have gained a more profound interest in Jewish leadership in my student community and beyond.