The freshman did not realize that she would be a part of the second year of Stern’s Basic Jewish Studies Program, which helps students coming from public high schools get up to speed in their Judaic studies courses.
“When I went through placement and this is where they put me. I was so happy, because that is what I came to Stern for,” Ms. Lachmann enthused.
The program, spearheaded by program coordinator Shoshana Schechter and Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff, was created to give students with less Judaic studies background more support during their first year on campus.
“As a beginner it is very easy to get lost,” Mrs. Schechter said, explaining that many of the program participants come to Stern without a social network in place. The Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies at Stern College for Women wanted to develop a special program “to give the students dynamic classes on Bible and basic Jewish concepts at a high intellectual level.”
The students meet every morning for formal classes. Two days a week they learn Bible and two days they study introductory Jewish texts and concepts.
Ms. Lachmann’s parents became observant before she and her older sister, a Stern College senior, were born. Her family has been growing in their observance and learning as much as they can. When she and her sister, Raquel, heard about Yeshiva University, “We knew we had to go,” Ms. Lachmann said.
In her Basic Jewish Studies classes, Ms. Lachmann is learning “how to think like a Jewish person,” with other people whose Judaic Studies backgrounds are limited.
Approximately half of the students on the Basic Jewish Studies program come to Stern from foreign countries, including France, Colombia, Sweden, Russia, and Morocco. They often make significant life changes during their first year at Stern College, including taking on a more observant lifestyle than what they were used to at home.
“Obviously the women who come here with little formal Jewish education are searching for something they haven’t gotten elsewhere,” Mrs. Schechter said. “We want to integrate them into that experience.”
By the end of the year, the students are expected to have a basic knowledge of Bible and Jewish Law and an understanding of “rabbinic Hebrew” that is used in general Hebrew language and Judaic studies courses. During their second year on campus, students usually move to intermediate courses.
“This is a stepping stone to the higher level Hebrew classes and general Torah landscape,” Rabbi Hajioff, who teaches a lower-intermediate level course that many of the second-year students take.
Grace Charles, a sophomore who grew up in Connecticut and now lives in Manhattan, was a student in the Basic Jewish Studies program during the 2005-2006 school year. She attended an after-school Talmud Torah twice a week and her interest in Judaism was piqued.
“There was so much knowledge to be gained, and so many questions I have always had about our religion,” said Ms. Charles, a participant in the S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College. “I decided at 13 that I wanted to come to YU. I hoped at YU I would be able to learn everything I ever wanted to know about Judaism.”
Ms. Charles recalls memorizing the first perek of Pirkei Avot as an extra-credit assignment for Rabbi Hajioff’s class.
“It was really an experience for me, who barely knows Hebrew vocabulary, to memorize all these Hebrew words and their meanings,” Ms. Charles explained. “I am so glad I did it –– I recite it every week so I will not forget.”