After graduating from Northwestern University in 2005 with a major in theater, Avi Strausberg (2010-2011) started a non-profit theater company called the ‘Hometown Theater Project’, and continued acting and directing in Chicago for nearly three years before she found herself becoming antsy.
“I wanted to be some place beautiful, and I became interested in organic eating & farming — so I moved to New Zealand to farm and manage an organic grocery store!
But after about a year in New Zealand, I realized that I really missed having a Jewish community… and then I heard about ‘Adamah’.”
In the Fall of 2008 Avi joined Adamah, and found exactly what she had been looking for. She lived in, farmed along with, and celebrated Shabbat with her new Jewish community, and even started exploring the texts of the siddur and Tanakh on her own.
After completing her three month Adamah program, Avi felt that she wanted to continue Jewish text study, and she spent the Summer of 2009 learning at Elat Chayyim before moving to NYC to begin a prestigious, year-long fellowship at Yeshivat Hadar. As one of 18 Fellows, Avi learned a great deal at Hadar. She developed her Talmud study and shaliach tzibbur skills, and she became inspired to study towards the rabbinate.
At Yeshivat Hadar Avi also met her girlfriend Chana Kupetz, another Fellow, who had come from Israel to study Torah for the year after completing her Israeli Army service. After being accepted into Hebrew College for rabbinical studies, Avi deferred to live and study Torah in Israel for a year, and she selected the Pardes Year Program for its diverse student body.
At Pardes, Avi can be found leading the egalitarian minyan as its gabbai, and grabbing volumes of Talmud off the shelves of the beit midrash with her chevruta. In Talmud class, Rabbi Zvi Hirschfield pushes Avi to become an independent Gemara student, and she finds herself greatly appreciating the skills that she learned from Leah Rosenthal at dissecting and clarifying Amoritic texts… some day, she’d like to integrate her new text skills with her passion for theater and the arts.
“I’d like to synthesize text with the creative energy of the arts to create deeper connections with the material, and make it more relevant and more personally meaningful. This was my vision for the Haiku Torah Project, which I began on Simchat Torah.”
UPDATE: Avi received the Wexner Fellowship for next year!
“I’m spending this year in Jerusalem, learning how the Rabbis of the 1st and 2nd centuries endeavored to build a just society, and how Jewish tradition has built on their vision.”
After graduating from Brandeis University, Julie entered into the field of interfaith organizing through the Jewish Organizing Initiative Fellowship Program. Her many conversations with young adults about the significance of Jewish community and current political issues stoked Julie’s desire to ground her community organizing “toolkit” in traditional Jewish texts, but she felt driven to continue her community work in Boston.
Julie’s Fellowship came to an end, and she subsequently worked for two years at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. A few months into this work, the Economic Crisis hit, and later that fall, when the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization gathered its member congregations to hold house meetings about the Economic Crisis, Julie found inspiration for a new JCRC campaign.
The JCRC began gathering their people to share stories about how the Economic Crisis was affecting them – and to imagine together what they might want to do in response. These house meetings struck a deep chord – panicked young adults kept saying that they had never had the space to share stories so honestly, and leaders from more and more organizations kept approaching the JCRC, asking them to help them facilitate meetings in their own communities. In the end, Julie coordinated 12 meetings engaging over 125 Jewish young adults. From there she drew the participants into GBIO’s ensuing campaign work, and later, into the vision and creation of JCRC‘s own Community Service and Community Building program.
Finally, Julie felt that the time had arrived for her Pardes year of Torah study, and today she spends her days in the beit midrash developing her “toolkit” through classes such as Dr. Meesh Hammer-Kossoy’s Social Justice Track and Rabbi Elisha Ancselovits’ classes on Halakha as Practical Philosophy. Of course, Julie’s heart yearns to apply her Torah learning to her work in community organizing…
“In the long run, I plan to continue doing interfaith organizing work… drawing Jews into Jewish community through meaningful social change work as Jews, and simultaneously drawing Jews into relationships with people of other faiths as Jews.”
UPDATE: Julie received the Wexner Fellowship for next year!
“How do I make a positive impact on Israeli society as a Jew living in America?” Farrah Green contemplates aloud.
Farrah has felt a sense of ‘home’ in Israel ever since her March of the Living trip in 2000, and unlike many foreigners studying in Jerusalem she has no sense of being the tourist in Israel. “My roommate is an Israeli, and I have other friends living in Israel – I feel very integrated into society here.”
At the University of Arizona Farrah became a pro-Israel student activist, learning much about building relationships with U.S. Congress members, and the tremendous impact of politics on society and international relations. “The U.S. government provides Israel with three billion dollars in aid every year;” she points out, “much more than the U.S. Jewish Federation.” After college, Farrah worked as a Hillel Jewish Campus Service Corps Fellow, and then continued her pro-Israel activism by working directly for AIPAC.
Today, Farrah is studying at Pardes during the third year of her Wexner Fellowship. She completed her MSW at Washington University in St. Louis last year, and she considered remaining at WUSTL for an MA in Jewish studies, but Pardes’ traditional chevruta-style studies drew her to Jerusalem. After all, she already has a degree in Jewish studies, and she wants to develop some “practical” Jewish skills this year.
Of course, the proactive Farrah wasted little time before looking for volunteer opportunities in the community beyond Pardes, and she now sits on the steering committee of PresenTense‘s Spring issue magazine. “I don’t consider myself much of a writer so I really appreciate this opportunity to be involved at PresenTense;” she says with a smile, “and now two Pardes students and one of the faculty have submitted pitches to the magazine!”
One day, Farrah hopes to create a positive Jewish learning environment back home in Kansas City or St. Louis – she wants to be near her family. Of course, they’re all missing her this year, but she’s visiting them for Chanukah, and she’s bringing back Israeli dreidels and chocolate rugelach from a bakery in Jerusalem… besides, they’re familiar with her passion – she’ll never be far from Israel no matter where she ends up.