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Get Involved!

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 experience.

 

Campus Life

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.

Jewish Learning

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.

Religious Community

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 Union, The 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.

Social Activism

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

-- Rabbi Hillel

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 American ORT.

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).

Maimonides defines nine levels in giving charity. The highest degree is giving assistance to someone who has fallen on hard times by presenting a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with the person, or finding them work, thereby helping that person to become self-supporting.

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.

Political Activism

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 the president.

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. 

Israel Programs

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.

Making Aliyah

“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 nearest Israeli consulate for details.


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