May 23, 2024
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May 23, 2024
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The Nitzavim Fellowship: Educating and Empowering Future Jewish Leaders

Students meeting with Dr. Harry Ritter, CEO and
co-founder of Alma. (Credit: Kira Kletsky)

In today’s politically charged climate on college campuses, Jewish students need all the strength, support and resources they can get. With the Nitzavim Fellowship, students are empowered to combat antisemitism and anti-Zionism once they step out of the cocoon of their gap year and into the secular world. The Nitzavim Fellowship is a nonprofit organization founded by Rabbi Adi Isaacs and the 7 Schwartz Brothers Leadership Trust.

Now in its third year, the Nitzavim Fellowship boasts 80 fellows and is open to Jewish students headed for a gap year in Israel before continuing to secular college. According to Isaacs, “Nitzavim tremendously adds to the gap year experience by giving students the skills and tools that they will need to successfully navigate their college years and beyond as leaders for Israel and the Jewish people.”

Business mentor meeting with Melinda Strauss, Jewish content creator. (Credit: Kira Kletsky)

The goal of the fellowship is to educate, empower and engage students through a three-credit course accredited by Hebrew University. The fellowship features exciting speakers, mentors and an innovative project that students implement once on campus.

“It’s crucial that these students know what they are up against so that they can come in with the right skills to stand up for themselves, for Israel and the Jewish people,” said Netanya Greiff, director of Nitzavim. “They are taught how and when to respond to anti-Israel sentiments and interactions, how to converse with someone who harbors different perspectives, and when it is best to walk away.”

An exciting new component added this year is the opportunity for the students to interact with professional business mentors. At the beginning of the course, fellows work within a group to identify a key issue that Jewish students are facing on their college campus. After developing a creative solution to solve the issue, each project group forms a business plan to be presented to their mentors for critique and feedback from a business perspective.

The impressive list of business mentors includes Harry Ritter, co-founder and CEO of Alma; Daniel Kraus, vice president of strategic partnerships at Birthright Israel; and acclaimed Jewish content creator Melinda Strauss; to name a few.

A few of last year’s Nitzavim fellows. (Credit: Kira Kletsky)

“The Nitzavim Impact Projects are essentially a social startup where students create an entire business portfolio including a mission statement, financial analysis, market analysis and action plan,” said Greiff. “Once their project is created, each group gets paired with a student mentor, a Nitzavim alum who is currently on campus and can give insightful feedback from an on-the-ground vantage point so that the project can be effectively implemented on campus.”

Current projects that fellows are building include “Beyond the Beis,” an app that matches students with chavrutas at different universities to help them stay connected to Torah learning following their year in Israel. “It’s a terrific idea that is really going to hold students accountable to learning once on campus.”

Other projects have included the University of Michigan’s “Mich Tisch” and its University of Maryland counterpart, the “Terrapin Tisch,” a Thursday night gathering for Jewish college students that brings Jewish students of all denominations together for some kugel, singing and Shabbat ruach.

Nitzavim students meet once a month on Fridays for over two hours of classroom learning and interactive training. A typical Friday session begins with an inspiring and enlightening lecture from well-known writer and speaker professor Akiva Gersh. Afterward, the sessions continue with an impressive roster of speakers throughout the year including venture capitalist Michael Eisenberg, renowned content creator Danielle Renov, and Israel’s Minister for Economic Affairs to the U.S. Eli Groner.

Nitzavim fellows gathered for a photo op. (Credit: Kira Kletsky)

The common theme among the speakers that Nitzavim offers, explained Greiff, is that they are Americans who have come to Israel and made a tremendous impact on the Jewish people. “We want to give students the opportunity to meet these inspiring people, learn from their experiences and ask them questions.”

At the end of the year, there is a showcase where the fellows present their final projects to a panel of judges who ask critical questions to ensure that students will be able to implement their ideas once they arrive at their respective colleges. The three groups with the highest scores receive funding to help implement their projects once on campus.

“Last year, all of the attendees at the showcase were blown away by our fellows who are going to be the voice for Israel on their college campuses.” Next year, fellows are expected to have a private meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

A Nitzavim group stating next to a poster of their idea.
(Credit: Kira Kletsky)

To apply for next year’s cohort, current high school seniors must complete an online application followed by a Zoom interview with Greiff. Positions are awarded to students who demonstrate commitment and passion to leadership and to Israel. “We seek students who are dedicated, have impressive leadership experiences, demonstrate academic excellence, and have volunteering experience.

Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis and are due before the summer. To learn more or to apply, visit www.nitzavim.org.

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