Hillel provides a community for students

Danielle Shaposhnikov understands what it’s like having a safety net of a Jewish student community. Going to high school in Edmonton and now as a student at the University of Alberta, she feels she bridges two worlds—one that is Jewish and the other that is not. 

As an Israeli, Danielle has faced antisemitism, accusations about the treatment of Palestinians, and unsolicited hate texts on her phone from people she doesn’t know. She’s found solace by connecting to her peers—first with many local Jewish youth groups and now with Hillel.

Danielle first started volunteering with Hillel during her last year of high school by reaching out to other Jewish teens who were about to graduate and move onto post-secondary. She needed to let them know that a support system was there. 

“Many people who are involved with BBYO and are going to MacEwan and University of Alberta are already sad about leaving BBYO behind because it was such a major part of their lives,” she says. “In high school, being a Jew is one issue, but on university campuses we face a lot of antisemitism. Being Jewish is one of the best things, but it comes with its challenges. Reassuring students, especially high school students, they are about to be catapulted into this whole other universe. Having a safety net of a community is a real comfort to this transition.”

As part of her role, she ran online programs for high school students that included cooking and holiday celebrations. Now that Danielle is in university, she took on the role of vice-president for Hillel Edmonton and is concentrating on delivering programs to her peers. 

This year the board focused on teaching how to combat antisemitism and informing about Zionism. They are instructing through bonding such as Jews and Brews and conversations during hockey nights. 

“Every event is unique. Some experiences are more educational, and some are more connecting and let loose. One thing all our events have in common is there is always a Jewish aspect to it,” says Danielle.

She volunteered for Hillel because she is grateful for all the opportunities that the Edmonton Jewish community has given her over the years. “This community has given me so much that I wished to do the same for others. I want to help other students feel like they belong, especially in a place where they may not feel that. The U of A campus has 40,000 students, and it is easy to feel lost and unwelcome. Therefore, it is vital to be proud of one’s Jewish heritage, but staying safe is as important,” says Danielle.

She’s looking forward to Hillel having more of a presence on campus once COVID-19 restrictions permit this. In the meantime, the board is planning one last event at Camp BB Riback before students break for summer.

All post-secondary students are welcome to join Hillel Edmonton. For more information, contact hilleledmonton@edjfed.org.