Laura Barkel

Uniting Through Learning and Cultural Celebration

This past weekend, I had the privilege of joining nearly 100 university students from across the province at the Hillel Ontario Leadership Shabbaton. In the midst of challenging times, this gathering became a beacon of unity, learning, and support, creating an unforgettable experience that transcended the boundaries of individual campuses.

The Shabbaton provided a unique platform for students to delve into the rich tapestry of Israel, Judaism, and their own identities. Through engaging discussions, interactive workshops, and insightful speakers, we deepened our understanding of our heritage, fostering a sense of connection and pride in our shared cultural roots.

More than a mere educational event, the Shabbaton became a haven of support during a period marked by uncertainty and adversity. As students navigating the complexities of university life, we found solace in the company of like-minded peers who shared similar struggles and triumphs. The bonds formed over the weekend became a source of strength, reminding us that we are not alone in facing life’s challenges.

Toronto Metropolitan University students representing Hillel TMU

In the face of global events that have tested our resilience, the Shabbaton emerged as a testament to the power of community. It served as a reminder that, despite our diverse backgrounds and experiences, we are bound together by a common thread of shared values and a commitment to supporting one another.

One of the highlights was the pleasure of hearing from special guests, such as federal MP Yaara Sacks. Her insights added depth to our discussions, offering a unique perspective on the intersection of our cultural heritage and the broader political landscape. Conversations flowed freely, barriers dissolved, and a sense of belonging permeated the atmosphere. It was heartening to see students from various walks of life coming together, breaking down stereotypes, and fostering an environment of inclusivity.

The educational aspect was complemented by a celebration of diversity, reflecting the richness of our community. Workshops on Israel’s history and contemporary challenges sparked thought-provoking conversations, encouraging us to think critically and engage in constructive dialogue. It was a reminder that understanding our past is essential for shaping a more informed and tolerant future.

One concept stuck with me and it was called “גם וגם״. The word “גם” translates to the word “also” or “too”. It was explained by Jay Solomon, the Chief Advancement Officer at Hillel Ontario. He explained this concept as something that signifies the inclusion of multiple options or aspects without excluding one in favour of the other. 

After the session, I found myself thinking and came up with three different ways to apply this concept that I felt resonated most with me about important topics in the context of the ongoing conflict. 

1. Historical Narratives: When examining the establishment of the State of Israel, a “גם וגם” approach entails: גם – recognizing the deep historical and biblical connections of the Jewish people to the land – וגם – emphasizing the resilience and determination of the Jewish community during challenging times during Israel’s historical journey.

2. Security and Peace: When looking at Israel’s security concerns, adopting a “גם וגם” mindset involves: גם – highlighting the imperative of secure borders to ensure the safety and well-being of the Israeli population – וגם – acknowledges Israel’s consistent efforts towards achieving peace while emphasizing the importance of recognizing security concerns in any negotiation process.

3. Cultural Coexistence: In terms of cultural diversity within Israel, embracing a “גם וגם” mindset involves: גם – celebrating the vibrant and diverse aspects of Jewish and Israeli culture – וגם – emphasizes the inclusivity of Israeli society and contributions to coexistence with mutual respect for the historical and cultural heritage of the Jewish people and their neighbours.

In times of uncertainty, such gatherings become more than just events; they become beacons of hope, illuminating the path forward. This experience was not just a weekend of learning; it was a celebration of identity, a demonstration of strength, and a testament to the enduring spirit of a united community navigating through challenging times.

About the Author
Welcome to my blog, where I invite you to join me on the unique journey of my life as a Jewish, Israeli young adult living and pursuing an education in the city of Toronto. In this diverse and dynamic metropolis, I find myself at the intersection of my Israeli roots and the rich culture of Toronto. Through this blog, I aim to share the experiences, challenges, and triumphs that come with balancing my identity as a Jewish individual while navigating the multicultural landscape of this Canadian city. From the bustling streets of Toronto to the academic halls of my school, each day brings new opportunities for personal growth. I'll be documenting the moments of connection, the celebrations of my heritage, and the lessons learned along the way. As a young Israeli adult, I hope to delve into the fusion of traditions, exploring how my Jewish identity shapes my perspectives and influences my interactions in this multicultural environment. From holiday celebrations to engaging in dialogues that bridge different cultures, I'll share the stories that highlight the beauty of diversity and unity.