Written by Atara Beck
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
TORONTO – Rabbi Aaron Greenberg and his wife Miriam have been running the local Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) – an Orthodox Union (OU) undertaking in conjunction with Hillel of Greater Toronto – since last August and already the Thornhill-raised educators have succeeded in establishing a warm connection with at least 150 university-age students.
“After NCSY (National Council of Synagogue Youth) participants graduate from high school, the OU doesn’t simply bid farewell to them as they enter secular colleges,” according to an OU statement. Through programs like JLIC, which is currently on 15 post-secondary campuses across North America, including Toronto, OU encourages students to continue attending Jewish-content programs on campus.
Rabbi Greenberg has organized both structured and informal study groups at University of Toronto and York to accommodate all levels of learning. Not letting the three-month-long strike at York interfere with his agenda, he arranged alternate programming at Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto (BAYT) synagogue in Thornhill on weekday mornings for prayer services, breakfast and study.
Yael Feinberg, a first-year chemistry student at York, told the Jewish Tribune how important this initiative has been in giving the students a productive and meaningful focus for the duration of the strike.
“I am a huge fan of the JLIC programs,” she said. “I know this sounds [like a] clichÈ, but it has strongly impacted my life, especially during the strike.”
The program seems to be filling a void even at schools where there has been no disruption.
Adam Zarek, a third-year engineering student at U of T, said the program is “fantastic” and provides structure for those wishing to remain involved in active religious study while on campus.
“We’re very thankful,” he stated. “It’s an outlet we’ve been looking for at U of T. It resonates well with the students.”
Indeed, the Greenbergs are more than teachers. Students are welcome to call “24/6,” the rabbi quipped.
“Students like to speak to you with their hearts,” he said. “They’re often looking for guidance, direction, meaning in life, especially at that age.
“Not that I have all the answers,” he modestly added.
The couple has four children, ranging from newborn to eight years old. They offer home-based programs as well, including a weekly lunchtime program Miriam runs for female students.
Recently they hosted Super Sushi Sunday, in honour of the Hebrew month of Shvat, and brought in a chef, Amy Stopnicki, who demonstrated how to make the popular dish.
In November, Toronto’s JLIC hosted a shabbaton at BAYT with a scholar-in-residence from Israel, renowned educator Rabbi Moshe Taragin. Another highlight is a fundraiser for Chai Lifeline, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping seriously ill children, planned for March. Other off-campus events have included Saturday night activities with discussions, games and food.
“What makes Toronto different is that most kids live at home, rather than in dormitories,” Rabbi Greenberg explained. “There has to be more happening within the community.
“We have to create a social dimension too,” he added, acknowledging that his project also presents an opportunity for young adults to make new acquaintances in a dignified way. “It’s a safe, open, understanding, friendly environment.”