April 21, 2005
By JESSICA APTER
Rounds of “Shaliach!” greet him when he arrives at Hillel House at the University of British Columbia or at Simon Fraser University with a box of the Israeli snack foods Bissli and Bamba, as well as condoms reading: “Israel – it’s still safe to come,” for distribution during Israel Week.
Shaliach is the Hebrew word for emissary, and Elad Guberman is ours. I state that with unabashed possessiveness, for I have just had the immense pleasure of announcing to the most active student executive board members of the SFU Jewish Students Association and Israel Advocacy Committee that Guberman will be the first-ever full-time staff member for the Jewish student community here, based in our brand new Hillel House to be opened for student use this September.
Guberman has been living here and working for Vancouver Hillel as part of what began in September as a one-year Jewish Agency and Canada Israel Experience program that places Israelis in Hillels around the country. Two others work in Ottawa and at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. The three make up a strong and diverse team that has contributed significantly to both the local communities in which they were placed by National Jewish Campus Life and to the national Jewish student community at two Canadian Federation of Jewish Students conferences in Montreal and Calgary.
Having Guberman in Vancouver this year has been a major factor in the huge steps we have taken in Israel activism and in creating dialogue on campus. One of the major barriers to free speech and constructive political dialogue has been the deeply rooted assumptions by anti-Israel activists that all Israelis are violent and enthusiastic participants in what they allege is state terrorism. Having our shaliach at our Israel week events on campus this year meant that many of these people were intrigued to meet an Israeli who can be critical of some of his government’s policies but still maintain an unwavering pride in his country.
Guberman shatters stereotypes when he introduces himself as a former medic in the Israeli army, having served in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon, because it is impossible not to realize immediately that he is laid back, kind, compassionate and peace-loving. His wealth of experience, including his army service both as a medic and as a teacher in medic school, his travels in Central America and Europe, and his year spent selling popcorn in Los Angeles all contribute to his well-rounded knowledge and open-minded perspective, which is admired by our supporters and respected by all but the fiercest of our campus opponents. Guberman also helps to open their minds to the reality of his having grown up in a country that is constantly victimized by terrorism.
Our shaliach also provides us with much comedic entertainment. For all his worldliness, his ineptitude at sandwich making was evident when he spent 11/2 days at peanut butter and jam-a-thons on Vancouver campuses making jelly sandwiches for the homeless. His shocked reaction when a student finally realized why the jam was running out before the peanut butter and pointed out his mistake to him has had us laughing for weeks.
Having a shaliach on campus has helped us in more ways than with Israel activism. By acting as a resource to the Israel advocacy committees at SFU and at UBC in our efforts to create a sense of pride in and a sensitive and realistic understanding of Israel among Jewish students in Vancouver, he has helped us to build our membership to record numbers. Also, by helping students form an Israeli Students Club at UBC, he has drawn in the large number of Israeli students in Vancouver who previously viewed Hillel as a phenomenon of and for Diaspora Jews. That club is now highly active and adds a new dynamic to campus life, both socially and by helping to educate and share their culture with the rest of the Hillel membership.
Having a shaliach all to ourselves to go along with our brand new Hillel House, brings much promise for the future of SFU Hillel. Guberman ’s creativity, progressive outlook and unique commitment to student empowerment will make him the perfect friend and resource to the Jewish students at SFU at this turning point for our campus community.
© 2005 The Canadian Jewish News.