Interview by Hani Lowenstein, Associate Director of Community Projects, OU-JLIC:
Shoshana Javitt grew up in Hillside,NJ and attended Bruriah High School. She spent a year studying in Israel at Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY) and graduated from University of Maryland where she majored in Materials Science Engineering.
HL: How did OU-JLIC impact your experience at University of Maryland?
SJ: OU-JLIC was not just one influence on my experience, it defined my experience. It created a community and sense of belonging for me, which was central to my college experience. When I started at UMD, Rabbi Ari and Shira Neuman made me feel very welcome and helped make my transition as smooth as possible. With numerous shiurim every week, I was able to find opportunities that “spoke to me” and helped me continue to advance my Torah learning. Starting at a secular college, I was nervous about how I could continue my learning and spiritual development on my own without the structure set up by Jewish Day Schools and Seminaries which I was accustomed to. However, the Neumans and later Rav Alex and Ahuva Tsykin created an environment where I felt encouraged to “squeeze” in learning whenever I could. All the JLIC educators gave high level shiurim, albeit each in their own unique style, that left me feeling uplifted and fortified with Torah. Also, when questions came up in a shiur or elsewhere, they were always willing to sit down to discuss these with me and others, and assist us in further researching these questions.
On a more personal level, the educators did not just teach me Torah but also served as my mentors. I feel very fortunate to have developed close relationships with many of the JLIC educators which continue to have a positive impact on me. After a long and hard day of Engineering classes, it was always great when I walked into Hillel and one of them would come say hi and ask how things were going. It’s been ingrained in me that it is important to not only have teachers and a Rav to approach for halachic questions, but also spiritual and personal mentors who can provide guidance at different points in life. So, it was deeply meaningful to me that I found both educators and mentors at UMD.
Even beyond the interactions directly related to Torah, there were many OU-JLIC events available for students to have fun and hang out, which I believe really enhanced the UMD Orthodox community. There were movie nights, Rosh Chodesh events, paint nights and more. One of my favorite events was Dine & Dash, hosted by the Tsykins on Motzei Shabbat in the winter months. They would serve homemade soups with fresh baked bread and people could stop by for a few minutes or for a few hours to hang out and spend some time with friends before beginning a new week.
HL: What OU-JLIC and Kedma programming do you feel was most essential to your religious growth while on campus?
SJ: The entire OU-JLIC experience was essential for me, so it’s hard to pick out one thing. The fact that JLIC provides a framework for the Orthodox students to come together is very important. Being part of a community is very important for religious growth and OU-JLIC in conjunction with Kedma and Hillel enables that atmosphere to exist.
For my own religious growth, the relationships I formed with each of the educators were enriching and furthermore the chavrutas I had with them were very important to me. In my first 2 years at UMD I really wanted to continue to develop my skills in learning Gemara, which I had begun only a couple years before. Rabbi Neuman and I had a chavruta together learning Pesachim which allowed me to learn at my own level and enabled me to improve my skills. Two years later, I had a chavruta with Ahuva Tsykin, which allowed me to learn parts of Halacha I did not have a chance to explore before. With both of those experiences, I was able to maintain Torah learning in my schedule every week no matter what else was going on. The 1 on 1 chavrutot also gave me a chance to explore other topics or questions in halacha, Tanach, and philosophy.
HL: In addition to OU-JLIC programming at UMD , you also took part in several OU-JLIC intercollegiate winter break learning programs. Looking back, what do you cherish most about those experiences?
SJ: I participated in the OU-JLIC’s intercollegiate winter break program in New York during my Sophomore year and then the OU-JLIC women’s midrasha winter break program in Jerusalem the next 2 years. I loved each of those programs (which is why I kept going back for more) because the intense week of learning allowed me to recharge spiritually. I also really appreciated learning with educators from other campuses who I would not have otherwise met. Furthermore, interaction with the other students reminded me that there are so many others who shared my strong desire to continue learning Torah while in college. Having the opportunity to come together from our disparate locations and backgrounds and spend a week of winter break focused on Torah was amazing.
HL: Anything else you would like to include?
SJ: OU-JLIC makes it possible for so many students to choose from a variety of Universities without sacrificing being part of a thriving Orthodox community. The atmosphere fostered by OU-JLIC educators was essential for my enriched experience at UMD and continuing my spiritual development. Therefore, I’d like to take this opportunity to give Hakarat Hatov to OU-JLIC for everything they did for me and what they continue to do around the world.