The university environment is a marketplace of ideas and experiences that can pose both challenges and opportunities to an Orthodox Jew’s observance and commitment. In recognition that the overwhelming majority of Modern Orthodox college students are being educated at secular universities, the OU, in partnership with Hillel, administers the Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), a program that helps Orthodox students navigate the college environment, and balance their Jewish commitments with their desire to engage the secular world. In addition, JLIC provides avenues for spiritual development and exploration for Jewish students from varied backgrounds; JLIC presents a positive, sophisticated and welcoming face for Orthodox Judaism on campus.
JLIC places Orthodox Rabbinic couples to serve as Torah educators within the Hillels on local college campuses. Now on fifteen campuses in North America, the JLIC educators strive to enhance the learning opportunities available to students, and also to bolster an infrastructure for Orthodox life to flourish. The educators offer weekly Shiurim and classes, bring guest speakers and events to campus, and make key Orthodox necessities, such as Kashrut, Chagim and Shabbat, easier to observe and more meaningful.
However, instead of taking only a generalized approach, JLIC families strive also for a more individualized touch. Students grace their Shabbat tables as regular guests, interact with them in informal settings, such as the cafeteria, and learn with them B’Chavruta. The regular ongoing availability of the families creates a comfort level that enables students to confide in them and seek advice for their more serious issues, whether of a Halachic, personal, or intellectual nature.
Educators are considered full members of the Hillel staff, and they interact with a large number of students both Orthodox and non-Orthodox. Hillels are often thankful for the presence of JLIC, not in the least because it enables them to better serve the Orthodox populations on campus, but also because it bolsters their ability to offer educational/spiritual services to all of the Jewish students. While the primary impetus of JLIC has been to serve the Orthodox, rather than Kiruv in a classic sense, we have found that the educators have had a substantive and positive impact on a broader population as well.