Mechina Pathways Program Provides a Unique Israel Experience for College Students
This summer marked the ninth year of Yeshiva University’s July in Jerusalem (JIJ) program, a month-long Israel experience for college students with limited backgrounds in Jewish studies that combines Torah learning, volunteering and group touring. Designed for students who were unable to spend a gap year studying in Israel but are eager to deepen their relationship with Judaism and its homeland, the program also gives participants the chance to meet fellow students from a variety of backgrounds and with diverse academic and professional interests, all committed to Jewish observance and practice.
While many program participants are YU undergraduates, up to 20 percent come from a wide range of colleges and universities across North America.
“Torah learning is the core element of the JIJ experience,” said Shoshana Schechter, the program’s director. “One of the main goals is to give students the opportunity for intensive Torah study, to improve their knowledge and give them a similar experience to peers who spent a gap year learning in Israel. We want our students to develop a real love for learning, strengthen their Jewish identity and continue to develop a profound love for am yisrael, Torat yisrael and eretz yisrael [the nation of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the land of Israel].”
The program is under the auspices of YU’s Mechinah/Basic Jewish Studies division and offers classes in an intriguing array of Jewish subjects—ranging from Talmud study to Jewish philosophy to the roots of Hassidut and mysticism—without the pressure of tests or homework. In the afternoons, students volunteer at hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, food distribution centers, environmental causes and various terror relief projects, in addition to touring Israel’s most famous sites. They also meet Israeli peers and learn how to advocate for Israel in an often unfriendly world.
Students experience many exhilarating only-in-Israel moments, from kayaking down the Jordan River to exploring ancient caves and enjoying spiritually uplifting shabbat programming in the Old City of Jerusalem. And while the classes may only last a summer, the conversation continues long after they’ve flown back to America; the program’s faculty encourages students to see them as resources for life.
Sponsored by Gerald and Mary Swartz, JIJ is especially attractive to students from campuses across North America because of its affordability: a fee of $1,500 covers tuition, room and board, and airfare. For Birthright participants the cost is even less.
“For myself, the greatest thing about July in Jerusalem was getting to see my peers not only bond as a group but also flourish as individuals,” said Rachel Card. “Over the course of four weeks, I was privileged to witness people experience Judaism and Israel in a very raw, very real way, which in turn sparked my own spiritual and emotional journeys and discoveries. I believe the crux of being part of B’nai Yisroel is drawing strength and inspiration from people and places you might not necessarily expect. JIJ seamlessly integrates the inspiration and aspirations that every single person participating naturally has within themselves, which demonstrates what a powerhouse the program truly is.”
“The program provided me with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from some of the most outstanding jewish educators of our community,” said Marjorie Rasinovsky. “This unique leaning experience played an incredibly important role in my life, giving me the chance to understand my spiritual needs and aim for personal goals with a more clear perspective.”