As an incoming sophomore at Brandeis University, an editor for a campus newspaper, a prospective business, psychology, undecided major and an active Jewish student on campus, my professional, extracurricular and Jewish worlds rarely overlap. But this summer, as one of 41 Jewish college students in the Collegiate Leadership Internship Program (CLIP), I am challenging myself to ask, “Why not?”
CLIP is a 10-week summer internship program that enables Jewish college students who live in or attend college in the New York metropolitan area to explore their vocational aspirations in a Jewish setting. In addition to a paid internship in a business or non-profit agency, the students explore the meaning of Jewish leadership through weekly seminars and a mid-summer Shabbaton. Administered by the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, CLIP partners include the UJA-Federation of New York, Hillel, FEGS, and the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women. The Jewish Communal Fund has also been a long time supporter of CLIP, providing both financial and institutional resources.
My fellow CLIP interns come from a vast array of Jewish backgrounds and professional interests. Selected from 160 applicants, they attend 22 universities across the United States.
CLIP has changed tremendously since its establishment. I asked Esther-Ann Asch, vice president of community and foundation relations at FEGS Health and Human Services System, how the program got started. “The original thought behind CLIP was that the New York not-for-profit community needed an internship program to encourage college students who were highly motivated and academically accomplished to consider going into Jewish communal service,” she explained.
But today’s CLIP interns are as likely to work in a world-class business or non-profit as they are to explore Jewish communal service in a local agency. “We are helping CLIP participants to understand that leaders in the Jewish community come in many forms: from rabbis to non-profit professionals to philanthropists and community organizers,” says Rebecca Weinstock, who coordinates the program from the Bronfman Center.
Today, 16 New York businesses and non-profit agencies in such fields as law, medicine, and finance host CLIP interns. “What a wonderful way to introduce students to professional opportunities and at the same time, enable them to learn about the Jewish community,” comments Alisa Rubin Kurshan, the UJA-Federation of New York senior vice president for strategic planning and organizational resources.
I am currently interning at UJA-Federation of New York in Marketing and Communications, combining my journalism and non-profit experience. “Writing for a cause”, as I like to call it, has enabled me to understand the organization so well that I can publicize it. In the process, I am learning from the professionalism and efficiency of UJA-Federation’s non-profit model.
In my department, not everyone is Jewish, but the Jewish values of UJA-Federation seem significant in the communal atmosphere of the organization. Every Friday afternoon, my floor at UJA-Federation has a Shabbat celebration that allows staff to share their personal and professional accomplishments with each other and recite Kiddush, Hamotzi and light Shabbat candles together. During the annual campaign, words of encouragement for fundraisers flooded our inboxes and “mazal tovs” were heard throughout the building.
While I am conflicted about the role I wish to play in the Jewish community – a career in Jewish communal service or an instrumental lay leader—my CLIP experience has convinced me that I want to have an active role in the Jewish community.
Karen Adler, special gifts chair for the Jewish Communal Fund, told me that her organization sees CLIP as an opportunity to help some of the “best and brightest” young people in the Jewish community and to “strengthen the New York Jewish community’s future.”
That’s a pretty lofty goal, and Bronfman Center Executive Director David Rittberg explained to me how the program does it: “CLIP produces Jewishly educated, pluralistically committed, and confident young people who gain professional savvy from their summer experience.” He added that CLIP is not just about the community: It can be life-altering for individual students. “Fostering college students’ Jewish identities alongside their professional identities has the power to transform a person’s life path,” he said.
One of the things that distinguishes CLIP from other internship programs is its weekly Wednesday seminars that connect site visits with guest speakers and group discussions. For example, CLIP participants recently discussed social media and fundraising with Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, a capital campaign fundraiser for UJA-Federation. We spoke with Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, about Jewish social action. We studied different leadership styles with AVODAH National Education Director Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay. And we heard from Rabbi Andy Bachman, senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, who challenged us to “find work that makes you happy.”
Today, my generation is concerned with individual impact: Everyone wants to change the world. But with every passing CLIP seminar, I understand further that the success of the New York Jewish community is rooted in a network of individuals.
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At a recent Wednesday seminar, the group was reminded, during our visit to the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, of a recent historical period that unified the Jewish people. One of our fellow CLIP interns, Daniel Pogoda, who had previously learned about the museum as a participant in its Lipper Internship Program, led us on a tour. There is something empowering about watching Pogoda, as someone of our own generation, teach us about the Holocaust.
In a few years, we will be responsible for remembering and preserving the Jewish narrative. And as the CLIP program is making clear to us, with the growing network of 31 years of CLIP cohorts, we will also be responsible for our community’s future.
Robyn Spector of Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York, is a rising sophomore at Brandeis University.