April 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Why I’m Grateful for Yavneh on Campus

If I could give one piece of advice to incoming or current college students, it would be to get to know the name Yavneh. As the communications chair of Yavneh’s National Board, I can tell you that my own Yavneh journey actually started with one question: “What is Yavneh?!” Being a part of Yavneh changed my college experience drastically, in ways I can’t put into words, and I’d like to share a couple of reasons why Yavneh is so special.

It all began when I was on SIJ, OU-JLIC’s (OU’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) Jerusalem summer program based in Tel Aviv, during my 2021 summer vacation. During the day, students intern at a place which interests them and have Beit Midrash learning at night. (Highly recommend this program!) As a pre-nursing student, I was given the opportunity to intern at Shaare Zedek Hospital while also learning from the best teachers from a variety of yeshivas and seminaries at night.

In addition to the nightly learning, we occasionally had the chance to hear from various figures within the world of Jewish life on college campuses. During one of these sessions, we heard from Jeremy Tibbetts, the director of student leadership at Yavneh on Campus, where he went around the room and asked a member of each group to speak about how they could better the Jewish community on their college campus.

Honestly, as a girl who was enrolled in Stern, at first I didn’t see the need for Yavneh fellows on my campus. Why have fellows to promote Jewish life when you already go to a Jewish school? But in this moment, everything changed for me. Hearing what my peers were doing on a daily basis sparked something in me that I had never felt. I stood up and explained how proud and inspired I was by every one of my friends who actively make their Jewish communities stronger and I vowed to try to do the same, even if I was in a very different situation. After I returned to my seat and he saw the inspiration in my eyes, Jeremy smiled at me knowing that he had made a difference in me, and the rest is history.

My journey continued with talking to my amazing mentors, including Tal Attia, Gracie Newmark and Rabbi Jonathan Shulman (just to name a few). They all believed that I could make a difference in Jewish communities, not only at Stern, but on college campuses across the world. They helped me brainstorm ways in which I could make a difference for Jewish college students in a more widespread way. With the help of my mentors, I have successfully executed numerous events such as “Shtark in the Park,” a Friday initiative for parsha learning and hanging out that helped us go into Shabbat on a positive note, or dance workout classes for women in collaboration with 305 Fitness.

In January 2022, Gracie extended an invitation to me to join Yavneh’s national board, a group of about 10 student leaders who not only promote leadership on their own college campuses, but represent and embody Yavneh’s values as a whole on 50+ campuses across the United States and Canada. I immediately accepted the invitation to join, along with taking on the role of Yavneh’s first ever communications chair, tasked with running Yavneh’s social media and promoting our brand (follow @Yavnehoncampus on Facebook and Instagram). Becoming a part of the national board gave me a real feeling of belonging and a second family who I know I can always turn to.

Although I’m proud of many things that I accomplished in my time with Yavneh, my proudest accomplishment was the start of Yavneh NYC, a branch of Yavneh which was created with the goal of connecting all the New York City area college students. Along with the help of many other college students and my incredible co-president Benny Klein, we thought it would be a missed opportunity not to have a place where college students can meet people in their same stage of life who happen to be just a subway ride away. We applied for a grant through Yavneh’s “Shtark Tank” and received funding toward our Yavneh NYC budget. We’ve hosted a multitude of events ranging from almost 100 people to as small as 20, including a $5 Dave and Busters night, trivia night, paint night, and so much more. We currently have a Whatsapp chat with over 200 participants, and it’s growing every day.

I have had the opportunity to travel with other Yavneh fellows to some amazing places for Shabbat, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston for the JNF Conference, Long Beach, and New York City, of course. I’ve learned an enormous amount through my travels to different communities, including the importance of having an open mind. You never know which opportunities will come your way, just as Yavneh came knocking on my door when I didn’t know I needed it.

There’s truly no way that I can put into words my appreciation and love for Yavneh as a whole. Yavneh has given me the chance to make incredible friends for life, along with all of the resources and mentors necessary and the confidence to become the leader that I am today. I believe that through Yavneh, I have become a better person, a better leader, and an overall better Jew. I honestly think it would have been a missed opportunity if I had never felt that spark of inspiration during that session with Jeremy Tibetts way back when, and I can say with full confidence I have never looked back.

To say I never thought I’d be a student leader is an understatement. I walked into my first ever Yavneh meeting with my head down and left with an immediate sense of urgency. I needed to be involved in Yavneh. My college experience wouldn’t be complete without Yavneh. Shabbatonim are the highlight of my year, my peers through Yavneh are incredibly supportive and loving, and Yavneh’s ability to push me to my highest potential will never be forgotten. I am who I am because of Yavneh and all that they provide for me.

By Lilly Fuchs

 

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