Hillel Leadership Initiative inspires students

Photo : JFNA

Photo : JFNA

The Hillel Leadership Initiative (HLI) encourages students to introduce their peers to volunteer and social opportunities. It has brought young Jews together on the campuses of McGill and Concordia universities and Marianopolis and Dawson colleges for the past three years.

The programs initiated under HLI’s aegis have been varied and innovative. In the winter of 2009, students participated in “Matzah ballin’,” where they handed out bowls of matzah ball soup at McGill, along with a Shabbat primer kit and a schedule of upcoming Jewish community events. Hillel House hosted an Israeli film festival, Israeli dancing, and learning sessions with rabbis. This year, a Chanukah party was hosted at Concordia’s Loyola campus. Students participated in a mitzvah project, cleaning and repairing a playground on the outskirts of Miami alongside local Hillel students. The Initiative set up a networking and mentorship program through the Jewish Commerce Students’ Society.

Aily Leibtag, a McGill student, involved for the past two years, said, “I was always passionate about my Jewish identity and related issues, and with the help of the program and the incredible mentorship that comes along with it, I have been able to focus this passion productively.”

Interest in participation has grown through word of mouth, from four interns in 2008-2009, to 15 the following year, to 22 this year. This growth has been achieved through friends recruiting friends. The interns take responsibility for creating programs and introducing them to their social network. This has proven to be a very effective form of outreach and engagement.

“The program has changed the face of Hillel on campus and helped us to create a Jewish student community that extends beyond each individual school,” said Leibtag. “It enables each student to take on responsibility for carrying the torch of the community. We are each able to create the Hillel that is right for us, a Judaism that incorporates our individuality.”

“We’ve offered a multitude of niche specific activities suitable to our diverse student community,” said Dann Bibas, a former intern who has gone on to become Co-President of Hillel McGill. “Our ‘for students by students’ principle has been a catalyst for Jewish life in a way traditional programming could never have been. The Initiative is cutting-edge in its ability to empower student leaders to initiate projects with which they identify personally, starting from scratch, and engaging their network of friends. I look at it as community leadership with an entrepreneurial twist.”

A measure of HLI’s success is the continued involvement of interns in community activities following their one-year internship. Half of the first group went on to leadership positions in Hillel Montreal. Ten of the 15 interns from the second year continued on with Hillel, student government, or Jewish community organizations.

“Hillel gives Jewish students the resources to get involved and make things happen,” said CEGEP student Daniel Etcovitch. “It teaches us about the huge opportunities available for us to make a difference and to connect with other students who share our interests.”


Federation CJA allocated more than $500,000 to Hillel Montreal for 2010-2011.