51 years ago, the Ottawa Jewish community, supported by the National Hillel Organization, created Ottawa Hillel. Before its official inception, there were smaller unorganized, unfunded Jewish campus groups serving Ottawa U and Carleton. These groups merged in 1957 under the official umbrella of Hillel to bring Jewish students together and support social, political, cultural and religious programs on campus.
Rabbi Burstein, the first Hillel director wrote in 1960: Those of us who worked toward this formalization knew what we wanted from Hillel, which, essentially, is the introducing of modern college youth to 4,000 years of Jewish tradition.
In 1974 Hillel became a part of the Jewish Students Union. This name change accompanied the inclusion of different Zionist and Jewish groups on both University campuses. The new campus club like many other Jewish clubs across North America took to the plight of Soviet Jewry. JSU arranged for speakers, had tables, organized national protests on parliament hill, and raised thousands of dollars.
In the past five years, JSA-Hillel has seen phenomenal growth and changes designed to create an even more vibrant Jewish community on campus. There has been a 5 fold growth in membership, the creation of a Hillel presence at Algonquin College and even purchased a Hillel house. This was a huge step forward as it solidified Hillel’s presence on campus.
For 51 years Hillel has been the centre for Jewish life on campus and today more than ever it the most vibrant, active clubs on all three campuses in Ottawa.
(Originally written in 2008)