Fighting the quiet battle

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When Snir Ghosalkar shows up for lunch, two things hang around his neck: headphones and the Star of David.

Every Thursday, the second-year geographic analysis student goes to the second floor of the Ryerson Student Centre for Hillel @ Ryerson’s weekly lunch. Bagels and cream cheese sit out on a table. Students chat about summer plans and Hillel happenings. Sometimes a Rabbi speaks. There’s only a small crowd of about 10 today, but this week is quieter because of Passover, says Maiya Keidan, president of Hillel @ Ryerson.

“I like the atmosphere, just being around Jews,” says Ghosalkar. Hillel @ Ryerson is smaller than other university’s Hillel groups, and it’s quieter too — or they used to be. The group spoke out twice this semester, alleging their human rights were being violated by the Ryerson Students’ Union. Still, Solomon says the group finds even fourthyear students don’t know about them.

Before meeting Hillel @ Ryerson board member Adam Solomon, Ghosalkar didn’t really know any Jews on campus.

“Hillel is sort of the big tent for Jewish student groups on campus. It’s the first stop students make when they’re looking for the Jewish community,” says Jessica Gilbert, program associate for the group.

Ryerson’s chapter of the international Jewish campus organization was established in 1980, and focuses on culture, Israeli affairs and social action.

They even hook up students living away from home with local Jewish families during holidays.

But Hillel @ Ryerson lacks the strong campus presence compared to chapters at larger universities.

“Everyone at York knows about Hillel. They know that there’s a Jewish organization,” says Lior Khananaev, a first-year student at York.

Unlike Ryerson, York has a history of housing a strong Jewish community.

Last year, Hillel @ York members flooded into their university’s Vari Hall waving Israeli flags in response to a rally for Israel Apartheid Week.

“During our Israel programming we’ve engaged well over 1,000 people,” says Hillel @ York president Matan Hazanov.

That’s almost double the total membership of Hillel @ Ryerson.

“At York, where there are more students that it pertains to, it gets more attention and escalates to a higher level,” says Solomon.

But even on an average day, Khananaev says he’s heard the Muslim and Jewish student groups gossip about each other. He says arguments and “battles” among anti-Israel and pro- Israel groups are commonplace in the schools main hallways.

“Everybody starts yelling and shouting and York security gets involved,” he says. “We can’t just stand there and take it, we have to fight back.”

At York, Hillel members also enjoy their own lounge, says Khananaev. But with a lack of student space, Ryerson student group offices are squished into the basement of the Student Centre.

Here, groups keep to themselves, says Rowena Jose, board member at the Fillipino Canadian Association of Ryerson.

“The student groups don’t really interact. They do their own thing.”

While Hillel @ Ryerson isn’t the best known student group, Jewish students have the choice to either take them or leave them.

“We’re the only Jewish group on campus. We can’t possibly serve the entire Jewish community,” Keidan says.

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