University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Johanna Herman

Art history student honoured for Jewish advocacy

Before going to Israel two years ago, Johanna Herman wasn’t very active with Jewish groups at U of T. But after returning from a trip sponsored by Birthright Israel, which organizes 10-day excursions for young Jewish adults, the art history major felt inspired. “I came back thinking there was a lot I could do on campus to help the [Jewish] cause,” she says.

Herman joined U of T’s Hillel organization at the Wolfond Centre for Jewish Campus Life. As public relations co-ordinator, she helped deal with the rash of anti-Semitic incidents in and around Toronto this spring. “I came into it at a difficult time, but that was no reason to shy away,” says Herman. She’s most proud of the April 1st “Hate Is Not a Joke” rally she organized with Muslim and Arab groups on campus. “There was a lot of support from many different levels of the university,” she says.

In December, Herman was one of six advocates from around the world to receive the inaugural Charlie Award. Named after Charles Schusterman, one of the founders of Birthright Israel, the award recognizes the advocacy of young Jewish adults. Herman received $1,800 US to divide between charities in Toronto and Israel. She gave half the money to Hillel’s new Centre for Israel Advocacy at U of T and the other half to Save a Child’s Heart, based near Tel Aviv, which provides free cardiac surgery to children around the world, regardless of their faith or ethnic origin. This summer, she travelled to Israel to volunteer for the charity. “Giving money isn’t enough, you have to give time,” she says.

Herman will return to U of T this fall to finish her degree. She hasn’t decided what she’ll do after graduation, but has concluded, “Continuing to represent Jewish students is a real priority for me.” By Bruce Gillespie

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