Seeking a career in a Jewish day school would not be unusual for someone with degrees in Jewish studies and education.
However, Yerim Cho is anything but typical. She came from South Korea to Rutgers University specifically to learn more about Judaism after her interest was piqued in her native land through biblical studies and her own research.
“I am a Christian who was looking into religious education and I came to Jewish education,” said Cho. “I know Jews are educated in a very biblical way. The emphasis in Judaism focuses on relationships and learning with peers. I felt I wanted to learn more about it so I read many books and came to the conclusion I wanted to learn even more about it in college.”
Cho excelled so much in her years at the university’s Allan and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life that the recent graduate was awarded its Bernice and Milton I. Luxemburg Award for Excellence in Jewish Studies.
“I think there is so much to learn from Jews and their approach to education,” said Cho. “The focus on the relationship between peers, students and teachers is important. Even big Jewish holidays stress the importance of family in education.” During her tenure at Bildner, Cho deepened her knowledge of Jewish identity, culture and Israel as well as her knowledge of Hebrew.
“It was a really good experience that I couldn’t have experienced elsewhere,” said Cho. “I learned a tremendous amount about Jewish history, Israel and Israeli politics.”
That knowledge was deepened during Cho’s last semester when she engaged in independent study, which focused on Jewish education and its impact on maintaining Jewish identity in American society, with Undergraduate Director and Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies Dr. Michal Raucher.
“I looked at the history in chronological order starting from the time World War II ended and then onto the second period from the ’60s and ’70s and the 1967 [Six-Day] war to the contemporary period,” explained Cho.
That gave her an understanding about how the community incorporates religious identity and support for Israel with American culture and identity. It also inspired the young graduate to want to visit Israel in the future.
“It was very interesting because I learned viewpoints I had never thought of,” said Cho, who especially found the critical role Jewish education played in forming that multifaceted identity of so many American Jews a fascinating subject.
Cho also minored in education and always wanted to become a teacher “because education has such a big impact on everyone’s life and what you learn at a young age determines what you become,” so is now mulling the best way to put her skills and knowledge to work.
“I have decided to stay in New Jersey for a while to work in Jewish education because I want to see what has been emphasized in practice,” she noted. “I want to experience it and immerse myself in it. I know there are a lot of Jewish schools in New Jersey.”
By Debra Rubin