Jewish Culture night turns a page on Con U, student union tensions

By Marlene Eisner, The NDG Free Press

For most of the 250 Concordia University students that braved Montreal's first snow storm on December 6, it was just another party with great music, food and drinks.

But for the members of Concordia Hillel that organized Jewish Cultural Night — Latkas and L'Chaim — it was an exciting and "monumental" event to heal a onceacrimonious relationship between Hillel and the Concordia Student Union (CSU).

"It's a huge event for us, a monumental event," said Rabbi Yisroel Bernath, spiritual director, Chabad of NDG and Loyola Campus, and associate chaplain, Concordia University."Obviously there's a sentiment on campus that even though the riots happened eight years ago, some Jewish kids are feeling uncomfortable."

In 2001 and 2002, Concordia University was the site of pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian activism, which created tensions among students. Anti-Semitic acts increased on campus, culminating in a violent protest and riot on the day and evening former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited by Hillel Concordia to speak at the Hall Building. 

Windows were smashed, police were called, and Netanyahu never gave his talk. Three months later, the CSU voted to suspend Hillel Concordia from campus and cut its funding, a decision that was eventually overturned. Since then, the student union has become less politicized and the relationship between the two groups has improved.

Nonetheless, when Rabbi Bernath first came to Concordia campus two years ago, he said he noticed an underlying fear among Jewish students to openly express their religious affiliation.

"When I first came to Concordia, no one would walk over to me. That's how scared people were to be seen with a rabbi," said Bernath.

"Now it's a whole different story. There is a certain Jewish pride. And the CSU put their name on our event, so it shows how the university has

Each month during the fall semester, Concordia has held a cultural night. Previous ones have been Canadian night and Spanish night. David Adelman, VP social of Hillel Concordia, is a second-year journalism student who was on the organizing committee of the Jewish culture night. He said the president of the CSU, Andres Lopez, and the president of the Arts and Science Student Association (ASSA), Aaron Green, were enthusiastic about the December party. 

"I wanted to do a Jewish cultural night all semester," said Adelman. "When we found out in December that there was no cultural night, I said that was amazing, we should do one in December because of Hanukah. I spoke with Andres, who said the idea was great, and after two or three meetings, they were fully on board."

The party was held on the sixth night (of eight) of Hannukah, or the Jewish Festival of Lights. "I think Hanukah is very cultural, more than religious," said Adelman. The room was decorated with blue and white balloons, the colours of the Israeli flag, and holiday foods such as jelly-filled doughnuts and potato latkas were served. There was beer, vodka and kosher wine, and traditional Jewish and Israeli music, as well as popular party mixes, blasted from the speakers.

Esther Berkovich, Sarah Macdonald, Marissa Miller and Haley Firkser are all first-year Concordia students who attended the event. They said it was a great way to meet other students and showcase Jewish culture. Berkovich said having the CSU stamp made it all the more special.

"It's the first Jewish event the CSU has put their name on." For Adelman, the night was a success on all fronts. "It was a really good event. We had a big candle-lighting ceremony, prayers, songs, and invited members of the CSU and the ASSA to light the menorah. That was pretty cool."

Article on NDG Free Press site - page 18.