3.72 m of textual records, graphic material and architectural drawings
The B’nai Brith Hillel Foundation was founded at the University of Illinois in 1923 by Rabbi Benjamin Frankel. The University of Toronto chapter was established in 1946, by which point there were over one thousand Jewish undergraduates at the university. Hillel’s mandate was to foster students’ Jewish identity, creating a religious, cultural, and communal environment and coordinating the activities of many affiliated sub-groups. Hillel was supported by the B’nai Brith Foundation and the United Jewish Welfare Fund (later the Toronto Jewish Congress), with increasing operational funding from the latter as the decades passed.
Hillel’s predecessor at the University of Toronto was the Menorah Society, founded in 1917 and disbanded in 1931 due to waning interest. In 1944 the Jewish Student Fellowship was formed, and on January 23, 1946 it was transformed into the University of Toronto B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation.
Hillel chapters were run with the guidance of a professional appointed by the B’nai Brith Hillel Foundations at American and Canadian Universities. During the period covered by this fonds, U of T Hillel had four directors: Rabbi Aaron Kamerling (director 1946-1970), Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezri (1970-1971), Ben Mayer (1971-1978), and Gerry Fisher (1978-1981). The director answered to a board of advisors, drawn from the university and Jewish communities, that was responsible for maintaining Hillel House, overseeing staffing, and representing the foundation to the public. Early chairmen of this board included Edward E. Gelber, Jack D. Pearlstein, Cyril Houser, Dr. Alexander Lipson, Sidney Midanik, and E. M. Sprackman.
At the day-to-day operations level, Hillel was run by an elected council of thirteen students under the director’s guidance. At U of T, the Hillel student council created and implemented a yearly program, edited the literary magazine and Hillelite bulletin, and over the years maintained the following standing committees: religious; cultural; house; social; publicity; art, music and drama; United Jewish Appeal; debates; membership; and seminar. The council met monthly and was required to call general meetings bi-monthly.
Hillel’s first administrative offices were at 492 Spadina Avenue, with programs held in various locations, including the B’nai Brith Youth Organization space at 750 Spadina Avenue, and local synagogues. From the beginning, Hillel joined forces with the B’nai Brith Youth Organization to raise funds for a permanent home on campus for Hillel. Programs in the early years included Shabbat services and lectures, arts performances, dances, personal counseling, and courses such as Jewish literature and Hebrew. Three times a year Hillel published the Scribe, a literary magazine addressing topics of Jewish heritage, life, and prominent figures. This was replaced in the 1950s by an annual magazine named Reflections. The Hillelite bulletin informed members of activities and events. Hillel continued to build the Judaica collection of its Norman Raitblat Memorial Library. It also sent delegates each year to the Hillel Summer Institute in New York State; the Brandeis Camp Institute, a leadership training program sponsored by the American Zionist Youth Commission; and, beginning in 1948, the Inter-Hillel Conference, which was hosted alternately by Queen’s University, McGill University, and U of T.
In 1950, Hillel acquired a house at 186 St. George Street. Hillel House was formally dedicated at Convocation Hall on January 21, 1951. In December 1977 Hillel House was destroyed by fire, after which its offices were moved to space in the YMHA building at Bloor and Spadina. Programs were hosted for several years at ‘The Lower East Side’ in the Newman Centre at 89 St. George Street. In June 1979 Hillel acquired office space in a house at 604 Spadina Avenue.
In the 1970s Hillel’s numbers across North America were in decline. In 1974 the Jewish student population at U of T was approximately 3000, but only 400 were registered members. This slump was apparently reversed by the end of the decade, however, when student interest grew enough that a general council of forty students was established to supplement the elected student council (steering committee). 1970s programs included conventions and retreats, United Jewish Appeal fundraising campaigns, a Shabbat co-op, a choir, the Coffeehouse lounge, a film series, a music club, a library society, an annual Purim Bash, an art festival, and counseling groups.
Hillel also served as the voice of Jewish students at the university. The U of T chapter participated in the fight against quotas for Jewish students and faculty, advocated for kosher food availability on campus, and was successful in persuading the university to avoid having examinations on Jewish holidays. In addition, Hillel often represented the views of the Jewish community to the general student population. It has been involved in the dissemination of Holocaust awareness material and in counteracting propaganda against Israel.
In 1970, partnering with the Jewish Student Federation of York University, Hillel established the Free Jewish University. Its courses were held on the U of T and York campuses and featured free courses covering a range of intellectual, personal and practical topics. Also in conjunction with York, Hillel published Or monthly newspaper and the Masada quarterly magazine. The latter evolved into a non-partisan newspaper, Migdal, which in turn became Images in the early 1980s. In addition, the Jewish Students’ Enquirer was published monthly, a joint publication of Jewish students at U of T, York University, Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, and Seneca College.
In 1978, with a view to modernize and reinvigorate its image, Hillel changed its name to the Jewish Students’ Union–B’nai Brith Hillel. The decision involved some contention with the Hillel advisory board, and reflected a closer association with the Toronto Jewish Congress. A third unofficial organization name, J.U.S.T. (Jewish University Students of Toronto), was used for the monthly newsletter, J.U.S.T. News. This newsletter was briefly renamed The Rolling Scribe before being discontinued in 1980.
The 1980s saw Hillel coordinating the efforts and activities of a large number of interest groups: Student United Jewish Appeal, Toronto Student Zionists, Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, Jewish Residence Council, Jewish Studies Course Union, Student Mobilization for Jews in Arab Lands, Moadon Aliyah, Canadian Branch: North American Jewish Students Network, and Israeli Students Organization. Hillel is now represented on three Toronto universities and three college campuses.
Scope and Content
Fonds consists mainly of textual records created, received and maintained by Hillel directors from 1945 through 1988. The records document the directors’ administration and programming activities, Hillel events, and relations with outside organizations. The most concentrated set of records are those of Rabbi Kamerling from the 1940s and 1950s. The fonds is comprised of correspondence, memoranda, reports, newspapers and newsletters, publicity material, calendars of events, financial records, event programmes, and catalogues. There are blueprints of the proposed extension to Hillel House in the 1960s, the mid-1970s renovations, and the new Hillel House on Huron Street considered in 1978. The fonds also includes annual reports for 1953-1955 and 1960-1970, and a number of publications (incomplete sets): the Hillelite and the Hillel Scribe from the 1940s, the J.U.S.T. (Jewish University Students of Toronto) News, its successor The Rolling Scroll, and newspapers Masada, Migdal, Reflections, Or, and the Jewish Students’ Enquirer.
The fonds contains 130 photographs, predominantly black and white, in the form of prints, contact sheets and 35mm negatives. Aside from 32 head shots of speakers and performers from 1950s events, the photographs date from the 1970s. There are images of plays, meetings, special events, and executive members.
Fonds is arranged with each director’s files separate and in approximate alphabetical order by file name. The files are loosely based on subject/function, likely as they were originally created. Rabbi Kamerling’s records are in two groups since they were acquired in two accessions (see note below).
B'nai Brith Hillel Foundation at the University of Toronto (Toronto, Ont.)
See MG 9 for a more complete run of publications with which Hillel was involved (eg. Midgal, Images).
Processing of the collection maintained each director’s files separate and in their original order. Following the Hillel House fire in 1978, Rabbi Kamerling’s records (1945-1955) were acquired by the Archives. In 1986, additional Kamerling files were acquired (1946-1970). These overlapping sets of records were described and processed separately.
B'nai Brith Hillel Foundation at the University of Toronto (Toronto, Ont.)