Jewish Learning Fellowship offers new friends, knowledge.
If you asked me what an average weekday night at Michigan State University looked like, I’d say you could find most students preparing for upcoming exams, completing pages of assigned reading or studying for classes. This year, some of us spent our Monday nights doing a different kind of studying.
Over the past two semesters, nearly 30 students participated in MSU Hillel’s Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF), a 10-week program that dove deeply into many topics found in Jewish texts.
The course, titled “Life’s Big Questions,” was led by two co-educators, Rabbi Becca Walker and Nate Strauss, and utilized large group discussions, chavruta learning and individual reflection to help students connect Jewish values and concepts to their everyday college lives.
Each semester, a new cohort of students joins the program.
As one of two JLF interns, I helped facilitate discussions and also helped students process material and ask questions in a more individual setting. Through peer-to-peer coffee dates, my co-intern and I developed relationships with our predominantly freshmen cohort, helping them connect to Judaism through text, but also to connect to the MSU Jewish community.
Each JLF session is carefully crafted and structured to ensure participants feel a genuine connection to the material. Each session is paired with a social dinner for students to interact and connect. After dinner, students read each text, and then discussed everything as a group to better understand the highlighted concept. For me, JLF sessions never felt like a class because we focused on discussion and understanding. This style of education was new to me, and I found it beneficial and refreshing.
The Jewish Learning Fellowship, founded in 2007 at New York University’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, has expanded to more than 20 campuses nationwide. It is housed within Hillel International’s Office of Innovation, which handpicks each new campus, sends a staffer to train the co-educators, and provides materials and support.
This January, Hillel International took JLF to the next level by hosting a National JLF Alumni Winter Retreat. This weekend brought JLF interns and students together at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat center in Falls Village, Ct. I attended with Lexie Kay, an alumna of our fall 2018 cohort. Over the weekend, we made new friends from college campuses across the country while expanding our understanding of Judaism and strengthening our sense of Jewish community.
Looking back on this academic year, I could not have imagined my JLF experience to be any better. I have made 30 new friends who I would not have interacted with on such a personal level in any other program or class. I look forward to seeing the impact of JFL at MSU next year and in the years to come. @
Eden Sittsamer of Farmington Hills is a junior at Michigan State University.