February 26th, 2015 I met Shelly Feld and Ed Prutschi (past and present chairs of the Hillel Toronto board) five years ago. We were all fortunate to be selected to participate in a 2 year UJA Joshua Institute for Jewish Communal leaders program. I still vividly remember the first day of the program. The first issue we discussed was whether leadership can be taught. I guess we all assumed that we were great leaders in the community and that is reason we were selected to be part of the program. But as the session progressed, we realized that we were selected because of our commitment to the Jewish community in Toronto and our deep desire to make a difference.
During the program we were exposed to new research and techniques that allow people to become effective leaders. Today, business schools all over the world offer courses on leadership as it is understood that it is a skill that can be learned.
Census data show that the immigration of Israelis and Russians to Toronto has been fuelling the growth of the community. This trend has been recognized by the UJA. They have established the Emerging Communities Committee (ECC), which I co-chair. ECC’s main goals are engagement and development of leadership within the Israeli and Russian community.
ECC and Hillel have been cooperating to develop programs to engage and connect young people to the larger Jewish community and programs that seek and cultivate new leaders.
Already in its 5th year, PISGA is a leadership course offered to undergraduate students from Israeli/Russian background who are willing and interested in exploring their leadership roles and connections to the Israeli/Jewish communities in Toronto. The students meet once every three weeks for three hours. They are given tools and information that can effectively enhance their leadership abilities and provide each participant with cutting edge advanced workshops to advance their personal tool kit. The Pisga programme provides the opportunity to further explore their identity and belonging. The programme connects these students to Hillel and the larger Jewish community through identifying program and volunteer opportunities within Hillel and the Community organizations that fit their passion. The programme creates a strong bond among participants with reuniting possibilities for future projects.
We are already seeing the success of this program. For example, this year Pisga alumni are demonstrating their leadership abilities by acting as mentors to the Students as they work on their final projects of giving back to the community.
In order to reach Russian speaking Jewish students on campus, JEWSKI was established .The program was created five years ago. It is designed to connect people and facilitate networking and the building of meaningful relationships and therefore focuses on cultural events, social and educational projects. Some of these programs include shabbatons, comedy nights, Shabbat dinners, holiday parties and lectures.
To further enhance engagement of Russians and Israelis on campus, this year we piloted a new program called ECHO (Emerging Communities Hillel outreach). Six interns (Israeli and Russians), who were previously engaged in our on campus targeted programs (Pisga, Jewski, etc) were selected to work at York, U of T and Ryerson. Each intern is responsible for engaging new students not previously engaged and for development of initiatives on their own campuses that specifically target the interest and needs of these communities. The goal is to bring Jewish education, tradition and connectivity through new connections and shared values/interests. Some upcoming programs planned include a Hummus making workshop and competition, Ryerson Karaoke night and a York lunch get together.
The strong cooperation between ECC and Hillel has successfully engaged hundreds of students who no doubt will make a long and lasting impact on the Jewish community through their involvement. We are committed to continue working with Hillel to develop programs that engage and enhance the experience of students on Toronto campuses. We look forward to transferring the torch to the next generation of leaders to ensure that they continue to keep our Jewish community strong and
thriving. These students are our future and it looks very bright and promising.