Dear Graduate,

Mazal Tov on reaching this incredible milestone!  You’re graduating with an education from a premier university.  You’ve achieved honors in your classes, been conferred a prestigious degree and enter the workforce as a Bruin alum, reflecting a unique and rich University experience.

Yet beyond the coursework, please appreciate that your time at UCLA has offered so much more.  The organized Jewish community has invested, literally, millions of dollars in strengthening and enriching your Jewish identity while on campus.  Free food, free classes, free fellowships, free mentors, free Shabbat experiences, free programs, trips, Shabbatons, leadership development, conferences….all designed specifically for YOU! A myriad of Jewish opportunities crafted around your academic schedule, occurring in close proximity to your classes, filled with content generated with YOU in mind.

Over a dozen extracurricular Jewish classes were offered each week – some at Hillel, some near the apartments, some at the Medical School, some at the Law School, some during lunch, some in the evening….all in an attempt to make it work for YOU.  Many include lunch, dinner or even a stipend to make attendance more comfortable and compelling amidst your busy academic schedule.  Qualified professionals, Rabbis, Educators and mentors available to meet, discuss, process what’s happening in your life, on your campus, in the world…all committed to providing YOU with a Jewish lens as you think and Jewish values, ideals and traditions to anchor you as you move forward.

With no judgement, no strings attached and no discrete expectations, the organized Jewish community has embraced you and invested in you.  Hillel, Chabad, JAM, the OU, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles pour their resources, their creativity, their energy and many of their greatest minds into bolstering your Jewish experience while on campus.  Interestingly, the majority of our Jewish campus professionals are East Coast transplants, relocating to California, to Westwood to be there for YOU.

Why?  As a business model, it presents as an immense investment with no guaranteed returns.  Yet the Jewish community had decided that it is one of the most invaluable investments that can be made.  It is an investment in each of you and in the community that together you form.  It’s a profound statement of belief in YOU – of our collective trust in you and knowledge that the future of Jewry in America will be richer, more inclusive, more celebrated, more educated, more empathic and more committed because of all that was invested in you.

The education you have received at UCLA, undoubtedly, extends far beyond the classes you attended as part of your course of study.  It was weaved into the conversations at the Shabbat tables, the Lunch & Learns and the Chevrutot. It developed in the dialogues at the Coffee Bean, took shape in the SHACK and blossomed in the Beit Medrash.  They took place as we planned programs, played ping-pong watched college football at the Bayit and picnicked near Janss Steps.  They addressed your thoughts, your life cycle events and even attempted to integrate (many of) your language, with our ‘Damet Garm’ fumbling attempts in Farsi.

As you leave campus, we implore you to take this investment in you as seriously as we have taken it.  To commit to producing dividends as a return on investment to the broader Jewish community.  To commit to Jewish learning wherever you find yourself, whenever it works.  To commit to being a connector who engages those around you with Judaism.  To give to, and gain from, the infrastructure of your new Jewish community.  To maintain the relationship with your support system from campus and cultivate the relationship with the mentors and friends that positively impacted your experience while at UCLA. To give back to the campus community so future Jewish Bruins to enjoy the same rich campus experience you had.  Most importantly, to believe in yourself, your optimality and your potential impact on the Jewish community as much as we do.

With warm Mazal Tov Wishes on your graduation,

Rabbi Aryeh and Sharona Kaplan

Rabbi Aryeh and Sharona Kaplan just completed their 15th year as the OU-JLIC Educators at UCLA. They are the Directors of OU-JLIC’s West Coast operations, strengthening and growing OU-JLIC in Los Angeles and beyond.  As founding members of OU-JLIC’s Executive Leadership Cohort, they mentor other Educators and support national programmatic needs. The Kaplans live in Los Angeles with their six children.