Introduction by Kate:
As we transition from college to our postgraduate lives, we will have an abundance of decisions to make. One may find oneself asking: Will I go to graduate school? Will I join the work-force full-time? Or maybe the army? Alternately, perhaps, will I devote myself to a seminary? The options appear infinite.
There are many details to consider when choosing a postgraduate path. One might weigh in finances, happiness, passion, probability, or countless other factors. However, as a Jewish student and graduate, one could also weigh in an additional item: one’s Judaism.
Incorporating Judaism into one’s postgraduate path may at first seem limiting. Therefore, I wanted to investigate the concept to see if that was true. So, I asked around. I located four Jewish UCLA graduates who, in the following article, will be sharing how they are actively incorporating Judaism into their postgraduate lives, be it graduate school, a full-time career, or even seminary in Israel.
Read on to be inspired.
“My name is Yosef Nemanpour and I am currently working as the Program and Recruitment Coordinator for Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles—a religious Zionist organization that aims to instill within our youth a love of the Nation of Israel, Land of Israel, and the Torah of Israel. As I am only three months into this role, and only a couple of more months recently graduated from UCLA, I spend a lot of my time contemplating how my sixteen-plus years of education brought me to this point, working for this organization. And I think the answer is so simple, I am so passionate about what I do—I just care so much.
I care that kids grow up with a sense of authentic identity, knowing and growing with every part of their identity working together to form a well-rounded young adult. I strongly believe that the alignment and balance of our various identities all contribute to our well being and ultimate self-actualization. And that is exactly why I do what I do—because so many young kids grow up to resist their Jewish identity, and it’s easy to resist it, when, from the perspective of a ten-year-old child, walking into a synagogue lacks so much of enticements that surround them in every other space of their lives. I think one of my many purposes on this earth is to subvert that model and make Judaism relatable and enjoyable for youth, taking the advice of Hillel the Elder in Ethics of our Fathers who reminds us, “If not me, then who?” (Ethics of our Fathers 1:14).
Admittedly, I know that I won’t be in this position for the rest of my life, my tenure in full-time professional Jewish work will come to an end one day, but I do know that this inclination towards Jewish youth will always have a role in my life, although in a potentially drastically different iteration. With this realization, in the coming years, I am planning on pursuing a degree in Jewish Non-profit Management as well as an MBA with the hopes of honing my skills and making a greater impact on the greater Jewish community in Los Angeles.
I would like to thank all the incredible people who have supported me to bring me to this point, my family and teachers, UCLA Hillel, Ha’Am, The Nachshon Project, and the Jewish Studies Department at UCLA and so many more. I hope that if you are considering a career in Jewish work, this list inspires you to reach out to those people in your life who can support you to make a difference as well.”
“Earlier today, I was tasked by Kate Burt of Ha’am Jewish Newsmagazine to discuss my two-year experience studying in an Orthodox Yeshiva in Jerusalem. If you have ever spent two-years studying in an Orthodox Yeshiva in Jerusalem, you would understand how difficult it would be to explain that experience to a general audience. What happened in Jerusalem? The task at hand is to reflect on a collection of thousands of moments that have manifested into my yeshiva experience, an experience to which I have thousands of different feelings about. I should start with an inkling of background information-
Two years ago, I graduated a bushy eyed nineteen-year-old boy from UCLA’s College Honors program. After two-years of excitement and intense anticipation to walk the commencement stage and receive my diploma, I was acutely disappointed to realize that I had nothing. I had hubris, I had friends, and I had pleasure, but I had zero satisfaction. It all probably boils down to an idea by the late great mashgiach ruchani (spiritual counselor) of the Poevezh Yeshiva that “there is no materialistic satisfaction, only spiritual satisfaction. Anyone who is wealthy in his spiritual life, he specifically is the satisfied one, and no one else in any way shape or form.” To elaborate, the goals I strived for were only for myself, and because they were that singular, they were also limited in satisfaction. My accomplishments had no greater call, or any taste of inherent meaning (largely because I rejected that as a concept).
A few months ago, I left yeshiva. But I never really left the yeshiva, because it is impossible to ever leave the relationship between yourself, those around you, and the All Mighty. In its purest form, that is precisely the majesty that yeshiva instilled within me: a real sensitivity to the world around me and my place within it. Yeshiva has inculcated within me an appreciation for the greatness of man. It has infused within me a distaste for mundanity and a deep desire for passionate connection. It has given me an eye to see the glory that the world was built on. Finally, no longer is meaning a factor of ignorance and naivety, but rather just the slightly unnatural course of man.
At the end of my two years, I was dragged out of the beis medrash (Talmudic study hall) to work on Wall Street. However, no matter where I am in this world, my soul will always be directly connected to the one who fashioned it. Every day I wake up and thank the All Mighty for literally breathing a soul into me, and every night before I sleep, I spend time in personal development learning some of the most precious ideas in this world. In between those two things, I am deeply connected to the Creator through my working, eating, thinking and speaking.
In short, yeshiva was paradigm shifting.”
“If you told me on my first day of UCLA that I would graduate and become a Jewish professional, I probably would have said something like “a Jewish what?” Growing up in Ojai, California, I only had a few Jewish friends, and never really thought about my Judaism when I wasn’t celebrating holidays with my family. When I got to UCLA, I sort of fell into the Jewish community: before I got to campus, some girls reached out to me from the Jewish sorority Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi and I went to a rush event just to meet new people, with no intention of joining. Fast forward two years and I was the President! Through SAEPi, I learned so much about Judaism, leadership, and myself. I gained so much confidence and discovered a deep passion for leadership and connecting my Jewish values to the work I was doing.
By my senior year, I was thinking seriously about continuing to work in the Jewish world and truly making my passion my career. I had been working in different internships, but nothing felt right. Being at UCLA with such a large student body, in such a diverse city taught me that I was fascinated by people’s stories, and knew I wanted a job where I would be able to work with lots of different people. Through students a year ahead of me I knew about the Hillel Springboard Fellowship, a two-year paid fellowship that placed recent grads with Hillels all over the country to launch them into a career in the Jewish world. By the time the application opened, I was dead set on it being my dream post-grad job. I was lucky enough to be selected as an Innovation Fellow at my first choice campus – the George Washington University aka GW! In June of 2018, I graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Food Studies, and two weeks later I moved to DC.
Becoming a Jewish professional is definitely an adjustment, but following the sage advice of my UCLA Hillel staff, I work hard to make Jewish time for myself outside of my job. I read heyalma.com every day, follow Jewish Instagram accounts (@modernritual and @jewishgirlprobs are some favorites) and I’m getting ready to host my first OneTable shabbat! I think I’m going to do a Vegan Chanukah-themed Shabbat. I didn’t realize it when I moved here, but DC has an incredibly rich and diverse Jewish community and I’ve made the majority of my friends through Jewish happy hours, Shabbat dinners, and young professionals events. After my Fellowship ends in June, I plan to stay in the Jewish nonprofit world, which shouldn’t be difficult since I recently learned that there are over 9,500 Jewish nonprofits in North America! Looking back, I know I would never have ended up where I am today without the Jewish community at UCLA, which is so unique in its breadth and depth. Go Bruins!”
“Being Jewish is my fundamental identity. A tradition and thought process that I carry with me at every moment throughout the day. A fact of my existence that I proudly wear on my sleeve (or more precisely my head). A job is something that one does, not something that one is. I do not feel that I work for a Jewish organization or the Jewish community, rather I feel that I fundamentally embody it.
After graduating from UCLA in 2017, I knew that I wanted to be an educator not just within the Jewish world but specifically with Hillel – an organization that I viewed as my home and source of Jewish education during the five years I was on campus. For me, Hillel acted as a public sphere of sorts, for the Jewish community combining different denominations, Jewish practices, political opinions, and views about Israel under one roof and communal structure. Hillel was where I wanted to be.
College is a time where people branch out, leaving the comforts of their homes, their families, childhood friends, and often their ideological bubbles. College is a time when people confront ideas, people, ways of life that are disparate from their own – which in turn forces a process of self analyzation. My goal is to extend this same process of analysis to students and their views about Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish community.
One of the fundamental pitfalls of Jewish education, whether we are talking about philosophy, Israel, etc, is that nuance is often traded in for simplicity. It is too difficult, time consuming, and perhaps confusing to spend time on the nuances, I can almost hear Hebrew school teachers across-denominations discuss. And, to some extent, they are perhaps correct. It does take time, effort, and yes, you do run the risk of losing traction in the weeds and details of it all.
However, if there are two primary lessons of Jewish tradition it is that nuance is crucial in our search for truth and that nothing easy is ever truly worth doing. Our texts are full of arguments and debates over issues ranging from the minutiae of tort law all the way to foundational questions about theology and politics. If there is one thing that the Jewish tradition doesn’t shy away from, it is tough questions and conversation.
It is within these tough questions that we truly find the wisdom within the Jewish tradition. It is my goal as an educator is to fully embrace the complications, contradictions, and nuance subsequently showing students that Judaism is not a simple tradition of black and white binaries, but rather a multifaceted religion that demands analysis. And maybe, just maybe, has something to teach you about how to view the world and live your life.”