Staff Q and A: Reflecting on Jewish Heritage Month

This Jewish Heritage Month, Gail Klein, Director of Operations, Centre for Clinical Trial Support at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI), and Ariela Levy, Director of Research Operations at SRI, open up about Judaism, misconceptions, and bringing one’s whole self to work.

Why is it important to you that Jewish Heritage Month is acknowledged and celebrated at Sunnybrook?

Gail: Being “othered” impacts your life. Whether it’s having large corporate events held on Jewish holidays or hearing little comments and misconceptions about Jewish people, it can chip away at you. Having Jewish Heritage Month recognized and celebrated is an opportunity to educate and create change. I personally love to learn about cultures and traditions and people. That’s how tolerance is built and change can happen.

Ariela: Recognizing Jewish Heritage Month can help our patients, families, staff and physicians feel respected and acknowledged. This visibility can help folks feel more open and comfortable asking for their needs to be supported, like for a rabbi to visit in hospital or a kosher meal selection.

Gail: Last year’s Jewish Heritage Month event really resonated with me and I wanted to get involved this year.

What do you wish people knew or understood about Judaism?

Ariela: A lot of what people “know”, they learned as a tidbit from social media sources. These tidbits often circle around bias and discrimination rather than historical facts and information. We know the stereotypes that circulate. I wish people understood that there’s far more to Judaism than what they might have seen or heard. There is diversity in Judaism just as there is everywhere. There are more than 5,700 years of history and there are Jews all over the world — Mizrahi, Sepharadi and Ashkenazi Jewish cultures from Africa, South America, Middle East and Europe.

Gail: And, there is a Jewish culture that’s very separate from religion. Some people may celebrate the Jewish holidays and traditions, some of which are religious, but not be religious or follow other tenets of the faith.

How does Judaism impact yourself at work?

Ariela: The core values of Judaism align with Sunnybrook values. One that comes to mind is respect. Respect your neighbour, your parents, your colleagues, your peers. I lead a team here at Sunnybrook and I try to lead with respect. Our team is made up of people from many backgrounds, cultures and religions. We can work together with respect and create an environment where we are able to bring our whole selves to work. I have had staff research and learn what Hebrew greetings to say to me on the holidays and I do the same to them.

Gail: I agree with Ariela. And you know, food always connects people. One thing our team does is have treat day where people bring in foods to share. We learn about each other’s traditions and celebrate together.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Gail: It’s important to remember intent versus impact. Your comment or misconception or exclusion may not be malicious. But the impact may truly be harmful. It’s something to consider as we have conversations about equity, diversity and inclusion.

Ariela: It’s so important for us to have these conversations. Jews have been forced to hide or to convert for so long. Now we have the freedom to be safe and to talk about it. It’s so important.  We all have diverse backgrounds and experiences, and we carry that with us to work and through the world. Being open and respectful of others helps us all bring our whole selves to work.

About the author

Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.