Whether you go to Israel or not, it is important to get
involved in your Jewish community.
You can do it in many ways and on many levels and are almost assured to find the niche that you feel comfortable working in.
Below we offer
some suggestions for how you can build on your real or virtual Israel
If you are in high school, the choice of a college will
be one of the most important in your life. No matter where you go, you will
have unique educational and social experiences and the opportunity to
fulfill goals and dreams. You may also want to consider the Jewish
community on a campus before making your decision. Do you want access to
kosher food? A "Jewish" fraternity? Services on campus? A Jewish
studies major? You can get an idea which campuses meet your needs from the Hillel
Guide to Jewish Life on Campus available from the Princeton Review and Hillel.
Information from the Guide is also accessible from Hillel's web
site. You can also find a listing of Hillel web sites here.
Also, check out How
to Write a Great College Application Personal Statement.
Jewish life varies a great deal from campus to campus.
Those schools with large numbers of Jewish students tend to be more active,
but schools with smaller populations often have a lot to offer because the
community is more close-knit. Most major Jewish organizations have campus
components. Three you should be aware of are Hillel,
the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Lights
in Action. Others are listed in our bibliography
of web sites.
Campuses also offer lots of opportunities for
"being and doing Jewish." Schools with Hillels usually offer
services. These tend to be non-Orthodox and egalitarian. The type of
service is usually determined by the Hillel rabbi's preferences. You may
have to go off-campus to find a shul to your liking. Chabad is also very
active on many campuses.
Most schools have Jewish student organizations. If yours
doesn't, start one! These can be catalysts for study programs, concerts,
Israel fairs and other activities. Start or join an Israel group to educate
students about Israel and encourage them to visit. Start or contribute to a
Jewish student newspaper. This is your chance to report on current events
and express your views.
Most of your college experiences will be positive, but
you may also confront anti-Semitism on the campus. This takes many forms:
anti-Israel articles in school newspapers and protests, Holocaust deniers
and, more rarely, personal attacks. You are not alone! Work with other
Jewish students to develop responses to intolerance and prejudice. Don't
hesitate to call on community organizations for help if you are not getting
the support you require from the school administration.
One way to head off problems is to become involved in
projects with other student groups. Work with your counterparts in the
Asian, Hispanic and African-American student communities.
Most students get to college and immediately begin to
worry about their major and future career. A word of advice -- don't! The
next four years may be the only time in your life when you are almost
totally free to explore the world of knowledge. Later, you'll have jobs,
families and other responsibilities and will wish you had time to study
architecture or philosophy or music. If you want to be a doctor, by all
means go pre-med, but consider taking as many courses in as many
disciplines as you can.
One other general suggestion. If you have the chance, do
an internship in Washington and take at least part of your junior year
abroad. Internships are wonderful opportunities to get a taste of the
working world and, if you get one in Washington, it's a great chance to be
in an exciting place where you'll learn a lot and have a wonderful time.
Check our Jobs & Internships page for some of
the current listings of positions with Jewish organizations.
If you can go abroad, it is an experience you'll never
forget. If you've been to Israel or somewhere else, you already know this;
however, studying in a foreign country is a unique opportunity to really
get to know another place and people. The Israeli universities offer
programs that will give you the chance to learn more than any virtual or
short-term travel tour can teach you. Many of the programs are listed in
our Israeli Programs section.
The emphasis of this web site is on education and we
hope you will continue to study and learn about Jewish history and culture
through JSOURCE, other web sites,
books and courses. Read the original sources of Jewish thought and belief,
the Torah, Talmud and Shulkhan Arukh.
Read the commentaries and responsa. Become familiar with the great Jewish
philosophers and thinkers, such as Maimonides,
Martin Buber and Rabbi
Joseph Soloveitchik. Spend 15 minutes each day reading something Jewish
-- the Parashat HaShavuah, a
page of Talmud,
a chapter on philosophy, a Holocaust memoir.
Take a course and learn how to speak Hebrew or chant
from the Torah,
study Talmud or Jewish history, discuss current events. Study opportunities are
available at synagogues,
Jewish community centers and yeshivot. Dozens of universities now offer
courses in Jewish
studies and related subjects. If you can't find a course to your
liking, start your own study group. The traditional method of Jewish study
is in pairs, so find a study-buddy and create your own course. Discuss
Middle East affairs over lunch.
Whatever your beliefs, it is likely you can find fellow
travelers in the Jewish community. Each of the major denominations have
their own national organization and most have local chapters and youth
groups. They typically sponsor their own Israel trips as well. The major
national organizations are the Orthodox
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Union
for Reform Judaism (UAHC) (Reform) and The
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation.
Besides getting involved with national groups, you can
also join a synagogue or
participate in local Jewish activities. Synagogues typically have clubs for men and women, lectures, courses, activities for
fun and charity. Be a part of a weekly minyan, attend Shabbat services or get involved with the religious school as a student, teacher or
volunteer. If you haven't had a bar/bat mitzvah, consider studying for one
(and maybe have it in Israel!). By joining a synagogue you help support its operations, but you can become involved even if you
choose not to be a member or can't afford the dues.
Go shul shopping until you find a place you are comfortable. Talk to the rabbi and
other congregants. Sometimes a synagogue will have services that are more informal or organized by congregants.
These havurot can be spiritually rewarding.
Why should you be active in Jewish causes? Why not get
involved in anything that will help others? Well, what is important is to
become involved. When the Talmud says, "Whoever saves a single life it is as if he saved the entire
world," it does not specify a Jewish life. Still, for almost any cause
you can name, a Jewish component exists. Some Jews are poor, get AIDS or
are homeless. Non-Jews will help the general population, but, by and large,
it is only Jews who will help other Jews in need.
Every community has organizations that need volunteers.
You can contact local synagogues, Jewish federations or social
service agencies to find out what you can do. Consider, for example,
helping to feed the hungry through MAZON, or visiting seniors at the local
Jewish home for the elderly or tutoring new Russian immigrants in English.
Many local and national
organizations are involved in all aspects of women's issues. To give
just a few examples, you may choose to work with Hadassah, Jewish Women
International, the National
Council of Jewish Women or Women's
Protecting the environment has long been an interest of
the Jewish community. Attend an eco-Zionist conference sponsored by the Jewish
National Fund (JNF), plant trees in Israel through JNF, get involved
with the Coalition
on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL).
Your time is valuable, but organizations also need
money. According to Jewish tradition, 10% of your income should go to
charity. For most people, this is an ambitious goal. What is important is
that you recognize that tzedaka is an obligation and it is important to give to the organization(s) of your
choice. Support the community and Israel by contributing to your local Jewish
federation. You can also support Israel and earn a nice rate of return
by investing in Israel Bonds.
American Jews recognize the importance of support for
Israel because of the dire consequences that could follow from the
alternative. They also have historically been frightened of what might
happen in the United States if they do not have political power.
As a result, Jews have devoted themselves to politics
with almost religious fervor. This is reflected by the fact that Jews have
the highest percentage voter turnout of any ethnic group. Though the Jewish
population in the United States is roughly six million (about 2.3% of
the total U.S. population), roughly 89 percent live in twelve key electoral
college states. These states alone are worth enough electoral votes to elect
Many opportunities to get involved in politics exist at
the local, state and national level. You can run for student council on
your campus or join the College Republicans or Democrats. Volunteer to work
on a political campaign. Contribute money to a pro-Israel political action
committee (PAC). Organize or participate in a voter registration drive. Run
for office yourself. If you want to get politically involved in
strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship, the preeminent organization is
the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Their efforts on campus are spearheaded by
campus liaisons. The student groups they lead bring Members of Congress to
campus, get involved in political campaigns and sponsor speakers. Campus
liaisons also serve as conduits, bringing new and accurate information
about Israel and the Middle East to their schools.
If you haven't been to Israel, NOW is the time to go. If
you've already gone, it's time to go back. The country is still so young it
is always changing. A few years pass and the differences can seem
remarkable. Think of how much you have not seen or done yet. Nearly every
city has ancient ruins and biblical and historical significance. Tour
places you've never seen. Go on a nature trek in the mountains, desert or
forest. Relax on the beach. Study Hebrew at an ulpan, Torah at a yeshiva or an academic subject at one of the Israeli
universities. No matter what your interest, a program exists for you.
Check our listings here.
“How can it be explained that a Jew like myself,
attached to the destiny of Israel with all the fiber of his being, has
chosen to write, teach, work, found a family, and to live far away in a
social and cultural environment that is far too generalized for that of
our ancestors? Israelis put this question to me, as they do other Jews in
the Diaspora....Is there a satisfactory response? If there is, I don't
know it....For the moment, this is all I can say: as a Jew, I need
Israel. More precisely: I can live as a Jew outside Israel but not
without Israel.” -- Elie Wiesel
The greatest contribution you can make to Israel is to
become a part of it. Sure you have every right to express your opinion from
where you are, but Israelis have no obligation to listen. When you are
prepared to risk your life, and that of your sons and daughters in defense
of the country, then you have a right to be heard.
You've taken the virtual tour and, hopefully, visited
Israel, so you have an idea of what an extraordinary place it is. Make no
mistake, life in Israel is not easy. It is a sophisticated, high-tech
Western country, but it is also a Middle Eastern society that has not
adopted (for better or worse) all of the norms of the West. Salaries are
typically low by U.S. standards and taxes high. Jobs can be difficult to
come by and the language and cultural barriers take time to overcome.
On the other hand, you can be a pioneer. It's not the
same as 100 years ago when the land was malarial swamps, but the country is
still in its infancy. You have an opportunity to help shape this new
democracy. Look back at American history and compare where the United
States was after its first half-century and where it is today.
If you are a Jew, Israel is the Promised Land, the
Jewish homeland. It is a place where you are in the majority and your sense
of brotherhood and sisterhood is stronger than anyplace in the world. If
you've been there, you understand.
Making the decision to move to Israel, to make aliyah,
is a big one, but lots of resources are available to help. Contact the
consulate for details.