Jan 20, 2010 — Sarah Schwartz was looking for a unique way to spend her winter break. After learning about YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) Jewish Life Coast to Coast program, she became highly intrigued. The program, now in its fourth year, sends students across the country—introducing them to leaders and members of various Jewish communities, allowing them to share their Jewish knowledge and enthusiasm.
“In addition to learning how to ski and trying to pick up a mid west accent, I wanted to learn about the lifestyle of these communities—the struggles and benefits of small town Jewish life,” said Schwartz, a junior at Stern College. “I also liked the idea of the dual experience of learning from leaders, while still having the chance to teach children and adults.”
With support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, the program sent Schwartz and 18 other YU students to Jewish communities in Middle America; Kansas City, Omaha, Boulder and Denver, with the goal of creating life shaping experiences. As part of their mission, students met with local rabbis, educators and community leaders; volunteered in a senior living residence; facilitated educational programs in schools and synagogues; and capped off their journey with a day of skiing the slopes of the Colorado Rockies.
“It was an eye-opening experience, in which I gained skills that I hope will prepare me to become a strong Jewish leader,” said Schwartz.
Previous missions have taken students to New Orleans, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston and Dallas, among other cities.
“The focus of this trip was to expose our students to life in Jewish communities outside the tri-state area,” said Yehezkel Jesin, program manager at CJF’s Leadership Training Division. “We wanted to present them with multiple avenues of engaging in Jewish communal life, both in lay and professional capacities. Ultimately, we’d like to produce active Jewish community leaders.”
Rabbi Daniel Rockoff of Kansas City’s Beth Israel Abraham Voliner, the city’s only Orthodox shul, had the opportunity to meet with the students on the first leg of their journey and was impressed by the “sincerity, capability, and enthusiasm” of the group.
“Our community was thrilled to host the group of Yeshiva University men and women,” said Rabbi Rockoff, himself a graduate of YU’s Yeshiva College, Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, Bernard Revel Graduate School and RIETS. “The programs they ran in the community day school and elder care facility were very well received. The community leaders, Orthodox and beyond, were taken by their eagerness to learn about a new community, as well as by their willingness to challenge and ask real questions in a respectful way.”
Rabbi Rockoff credited his participation in numerous YU programs such as Torah Tours, Summer Torah Seminars and CJF missions for nurturing his goal of serving in an “out of town” community.
“My studies and experiences during my time at Yeshiva have provided me with the world outlook and tools that led me to where I am today,” he explained. “My teachers and especially my rabbinic mentors, continue to be a source of guidance and inspiration.”
To learn more about the Center for the Jewish Future visit www.yu.edu/cjf.