Mrs. Hani Lowenstein, Associate Director of Community Projects, caught up with OU-JLIC’s Founding Director, Rabbi Menachem Schrader, about his motivation in starting OU-JLIC and his reflections on 20 years.
HL: What led to the founding of OU-JLIC?
MS: I was teaching in Yeshivat Hamivtar for quite a few years and we would get many students at different points in their college journey; some would come to study before college, others in the middle of their college experience and sometimes even after they finished college. It became clear from talking to these students that there was very little Torah infrastructure on their college campuses.
It was especially challenging trying to give students as much inspiration, knowledge and opportunities to grow in yeshivah, and then sending them back to college environments that seemed to stymy everything we worked on, and thrust our students into the same old situations. I felt students were lacking positive role models on campus that students could relate to and try to emulate, and that would encourage students to continue their religious growth.
I wanted us to try and develop a continuation of Torah education on secular campuses in a way that students were accustomed to from their upbringing; to create an infrastructure on campus that would encourage them to maintain their observance and to, B’ezrat Hashem, advance it. For those that came to campus without any background, we would also be there to help them along should they desire to learn. The point of working with non-observant students was not to ‘convert’ them so to speak but to be there to present them the Torah’s wisdom and discuss life issues from an Orthodox perspective. The Torah has what to say on just about anything and everything, and Orthodoxy’s perspective and presentation should be available to all Jews.
HL: Did you intend for the organization to start off with sending Torah educator couples to campuses? Why?
MS: Since Torah Judaism is transmitted best by one person learning from another, it was always clear this ‘Orthodox infrastructure’ on campus had to include Torah educators. And in order to ensure students had an educator they could connect with, given that people and personalities differ, it would be ideal to have multiple educators on each campus. Because differences in personality tend to be more pronounced between men and women and especially within the context of a Torah society, where men and women have different obligations, it made sense to look for educator couples, so there would be a male educator primarily focused on leading the male students and a female educator focused on leading the female students. We also wanted to present college students with a positive marital example they could look up to and desire to emulate in their not so distant future.
The relative positions of the male and the female Torah educators are egalitarian: by this I mean, that their roles are equal, but different. They are both there to teach Torah and be personal examples of Torah values. But the nature of this presentation may be different for men and women in certain areas, such as how they approach discussing marriage and relationships. The uniqueness of what men have to convey and what women have to express is well established in Torah Judaism. And the effects and relationships that will be established between men and students and women and students is going to be very different as well. The woman Torah educator has something very unique to contribute and the need for formalization of the role of the female Torah educator remains paramount. This would be true even if women were the minority on college campuses. In actuality though, today 58% of undergraduate students are female and 42% male. The notion that it doesn’t matter if it is a man or a woman is not the Torah approach. There are many cases where female students benefit from male Torah educators and male students benefit from female Torah educators. Still, it is essential for female students to also hear Torah from other women and have personal role models who are women and represent Torah Judaism. The ultimate goal of all our educators is the same, but how the educators convey Jewish tradition for men is very different than for women. That is why when we recruit couples we look for couples where both the husband and wife can work on campus in a formal role.
HL: Looking back on the past 20 years, what do you think are some of OU-JLIC’s greatest successes?
MS: 20 years ago, we were on very few campuses. Now we are Baruch Hashem on 22 campuses throughout the United States, Canada and Israel. We have gained recognition from the Modern Orthodox Day Schools, gap year programs and Hillel, as key to Orthodox Jewish life on secular campuses. Yeshivah high schools, yeshivot in Israel and seminaries understand that their students will do far better off at OU-JLIC campuses and should be encouraged to go there if they are going to secular universities, and we have a great relationship working with these schools and their students. Within the Hillel world, it is understood that in order to have and serve a strong Orthodox student contingent having OU-JLIC on campus is essential and desired. And acharon acharon chaviv (last, but not least), we have an outstanding quality of Torah educator couples who work on campus, and at this point in time, many graduating students from yeshivot view work with OU-JLIC as a desirable position.
HL: You are a very busy person. Traveling to the U.S. from Israel numerous times each year. In your free time what do you most enjoy doing?
MS: I most enjoy spending time with my wife and children and children-in-law and grandchildren and teaching Torah to those that are interested in learning.