McMaster Hillel: a home on campus for Jewish students
C/O McMaster Hillel
When Jewish students need support, McMaster Hillel provides
By: Hannah Silverman, Contributor
McMaster Hillel, our campus’ only club for Jewish students, focuses on creating meaningful connections and experiences for Jewish students while they are studying at university. I believe that McMaster Hillel is extremely important in helping Jewish students feel welcomed and represented on campus. We provide invaluable resources to Jewish and non-Jewish students alike — creating a home away from home, providing Shabbat meals and holiday experiences, opportunities to engage with Jewish theology and learning and chances to connect with others with similar interests.
Without Hillel, myself and many other Jewish students would not have access to such opportunities that are critical to our wellbeing and identity. There are between 500-700 Jewish students at McMaster University and Hillel serves as a conduit for anything from fielding questions around finding kosher food in Hamilton, to providing holiday programming or to hanging out with newly made friends.
While many Jewish people share cultural and religious beliefs that unite us, there are a variety of individual opinions and Jewish practices that represent the diversity within our community. Hillel aims to meet the needs of as many Jewish students on campus as possible; as the current President of McMaster Hillel, I am committed to ensuring that all Jewish students feel safe, respected and valued at McMaster.
When asked about the way in which McMaster Hillel supports students, Gal Armon, a fourth-year student expressed the utter importance of the club in the experience of Jewish students.
“As many Jewish students will tell you, being Jewish is a different experience for everyone and we all require different things in order to feel connected. For me, it is keeping up with traditions such as weekly Shabbat dinners. Having a club on campus that supports me in my desire to keep up with tradition is not just important, it is essential for my own mental and spiritual well-being," explained Armon.
McMaster Hillel staff and students have collaborated with university partners and clubs, including the Equity and Inclusion Office, on various programs. We recently joined the newly formed Spiritual Care and Learning Community in hosting joint Interfaith weekly lunches. Additionally, in 2018, we were showcased on McMaster University’s website in recognition of being a welcoming and inclusive environment on campus.
The Jewish community at McMaster has existed on campus since at least the 1950s and it is imperative that there is a space on campus where those from our community can gather. Like many other cultural, ethnic and religious groups, there are times we need to lean on one another for support. Hillel provides the guidance and support that my peers and I rely on.
In 2019, it was reported that Jewish people account for the highest number of religious-based hate crimes in Canada and this number has continued to rise throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Jewish students often mention that they need designated spaces to help them process antisemitic experiences. This is what McMaster Hillel aims to achieve for Jewish students.
“To me, Hillel is a safe space on campus for students like myself to come together as a Jewish community and it acts as a support system,” explained Rachel Altman, a fourth-year student “I feel like Hillel is a way for me to connect to my Judaism and my Jewish peers while I’m on campus.”
Our community’s connection to Israel is varied and multi-faceted, though the vast majority of the Canadian Jewish community feels a strong connection to Israel. McMaster Hillel aims to give students the option to explore these connections while also being a place for education and conversations around a complicated geo-political conflict.
We are committed to holding space for all students who want to have conversations critically and respectfully with each other. Most importantly, I and the rest of McMaster Hillel pray for peace in the region so that all Israelis and Palestinians can live their lives without fear or war.
What I find most remarkable about the work our club does on campus is that it has not diminished in the wake of the last year and half, when a large majority of students were not located on campus.
Our Hillel Director, Judith Dworkin, wrote in a recent article about our virtual programming, shedding light on the creative ways we have approached building community.
“We are in the business of community so we need to think creatively about what it feels like to be a part of this community,” said Dworkin.
Like many other clubs, we found ways to adjust our programming and foster connections even from afar. Knowing that Jewish students were able to bring their authentic selves to Hillel, even in the midst of the past year, has been one of the things that staff and students alike are most proud of.