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Ashley Faintuch


Alex Billinkoff

 
OUR STUDENTS DO US PROUD

By Faith Kaplan, September 1, 2010

Once upon a time, many years ago, when I was a student at both the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba, (though not simultaneously) I kept my distance from the Jewish Students Association.  As a Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate graduate and Camp Massad, BBYO and YMHA clubs alumnus, there was no need for me to “belong” to a Jewish students group. All my friends were Jewish. I knew every Jewish person in my age group in Winnipeg. I was very active in student council during high school and I was tired of being involved.  And besides, I preferred the Buffeteria’s oatmeal muffins to the bagel breakfasts sponsored by JSA.

Other than bagel breakfasts and the Erev Christmas Social, I don’t remember any programming offered by JSA. There were no burning issues facing Jewish students on campus in the early 80’s.  The intifadas and campaigns to delegitimize Israel weren’t yet a glimmer in Palestinian eyes, and Arafat was widely regarded as a terrorist even if the UN approved the Zionism is Racism motion. The international Jewish community was trying to free Soviet Jewry. Israel and Egypt were making peace. The IDF had rescued Jewish hostages in Entebbe. We were proud to be Jewish and felt safe on campus.

This story is about today’s university students, and the very different experience they encounter on campus.  It’s certainly not the “la la la la la” experience I had. Today’s Jewish university students are up against it.  There is a lot more competition for fewer spots in professional faculties.  Today’s higher tuition fees can’t be paid with a decent summer job.  Anti -Semites and Israel bashers are busy causing mischief around every corner, and in many of the classrooms, on campuses across North America. There are too many misinformed and intellectually lazy professors happy to parrot the anti Zionist pap that passes for fact on too many campuses, and university administrators who encourage pro Palestinian anti Semitic bullies trying to control the agenda and the message, often quite effectively, by giving them a platform under the guise of free speech.  Even the University of Manitoba permitted the provocatively titled Israel Apartheid Week earlier this year, citing academic freedom and the university’s mandate to encourage debate and dialogue.  Our students are truly on the front lines. 

JSA remains a social club, but has evolved into a Jewish students and Israel advocacy organization that is part of an international movement, and has been rebranded as Hillel.  The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg funds a full time campus staff resource to work at both campuses in developing programming that meets today’s needs as determined by the students. Hart Jacob,  a Gray Academy graduate and former Camp Massad director, is the new Hillel director, taking over from Samantha Loxton who has moved on to become Director of Leadership Development  at Federation.

And our students?  In true Winnipeg fashion, they are rising to the challenges they face. Winnipeg JSA/Hillel was recognized nationally this past spring for its leadership and program initiatives in two categories.  The Canadian Federation of Jewish Students (CFJS) held its Annual Awards Ceremony in Toronto on June 27th to honour exceptional student leaders who have contributed to national Jewish campus life.  There were six categories of awards to recognize students who have excelled in the areas of advocacy, Jewish identity, activism, community involvement and social action and 50 students from across Canada were nominated.

Fellow Commerce alum and Gray Academy graduate Alix Billinkoff won the Dugma Award for exceptional leadership and dedication to Jewish values and Jewish campus life. Alix graduated University of Manitoba with her Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) degree this summer and is off to Israel on her next adventure. 

Dugma is Hebrew for “example”, and is a really good name for this award, which honours a student who has engaged other Jewish students to become involved in Jewish campus life, reached out to students from other faiths and backgrounds and created a positive space for Jewish learning on campus.  Bilinkoff was the Social Action Committee Chair at U of M for JSA/ Hillel and planned and co-chaired the Bathtub Project and the Interfaith Shabbat. Students set up a bathtub at U of M, U of W and Gray Academy and asked people to bring in donations of slightly used toys, books, household products and clothes to donate to Osborne House.  The Interfaith Shabbat, attended by 160 people,  was held at the Etz Chaim Synagogue and included a tour of the synagogue, a student led service, a traditional Shabbat meal and  after dinner speaker Zane Zalis and local singer Kelsie Cowie.

Manwhile, students involved with JSA/Hillel at the University of Winnipeg were recognized with the Collective Advocacy Inititative Award for their Sderot Awareness Campaign about the ongoing rocket attacks in Sderot, Israel.  Ashley Faintuch and Robin Super planned this week and a half long program, called Just 15 Seconds, and Ashley accepted the award of behalf of U of W Hillel at the Toronto CFJS Awards. Ashley is entering her final year of the Bachelor of Business Administration program, majoring in Marketing, and plans to pursue a career in Marketing once she graduates.

Most encouraging of all is the fact that this level of advocacy is being developed well in advance of university. My favourite summer camp, Machaneh Massad, offers an experience unlike any other for encouraging  young people to engage with Jews and Jewish issues. Staff and campers must be recognized for the inspirational song they wrote for Maccabiah dedicated to Israeli captive Gilad Shalit, whose brutal kidnapping from Israel and ongoing captivity in Gaza  exposes Hamas’ evil.   Visit the following link to see Massad in all its glory at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sd8z5xRMdno (The video is also posted in the local news section of the Winnipeg Jewish Review).Heydad Massad!  Heydad Hillel students!  Heydad our children and those who inspire them to good deeds!

With the Holidays just around the corner, best wishes to you and yours for  a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year from me and mine. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year!

 
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