This advice was submitted by Rabbi Hart Levine, Director of Student Leadership Development for Yavneh On Campus and Founder of Heart to Heart.
What leadership opportunities can I find within my college Jewish community, how can I evaluate the opportunities at different schools, and how should that affect my choice of where to enroll?
College is one of the first time when you’re going to be making your own decisions, including how you want to live a Jewish life, without parents or institutions telling you what to do. There are plenty of risks involved in that, but there are also opportunities – specifically in terms of personal development and Jewish leadership. Most Orthodox campus communities are student-led, which means students are making decisions about what values, programs, and principles guide their Judaism. For example, students hosting their own Shabbat meals will determine what their Shabbat meals look like and who’s included in them.
Some students do well on a campus with robust community infrastructure and support and are able to leverage large communities to do great things — in which case you should be looking at campuses with established Orthodox communities and large Orthodox populations. Others might do well at campuses with smaller communities where every person showing up makes a difference and leadership opportunities are yours for the taking – in which case you might want to look for a smaller community, although still one with support, such as an OU-JLIC couple.
You can take on leadership opportunities anywhere, but remember that it’s nearly impossible to take on those opportunities and create change without being rooted and supported yourself. Alongside OU-JLIC Torah Educators on 23 campuses, the OU in partnership with Mizrachi runs a fellowship called Yavneh that helps support all sorts of student leadership initiatives – grassroots and institutional changes, outreach and inreach, big and small ideas, and on big campuses and small campuses all across North America. You can search our map for campuses by Orthodox population, whether they have OU-JLIC couples or Yavneh activity, and you can see the Orthodox student community websites.