For College Students, Winter Break in Jerusalem

The future of Judaism depends on Jewish knowledge, says Rabbi Loren Sykes, and specifically, giving more young people the chance to acquire it.

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The future of Judaism depends on Jewish knowledge, says Rabbi Loren Sykes, and specifically, giving more young people the chance to acquire it. This past January, thanks to some generous donors, Sykes and United Synagogue gave 20 college students the chance to do just that, through an incredibly low-cost trip for study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

“This is a game changer,” said Sykes, director of United Synagogue’s Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center, of which the Conservative Yeshiva is a part. “It shows that Jewish college students are not afraid of Jewish content – they actually want it.” With no advertising, 125 students applied for the 20 slots. The entire experience, including room, board, classes, and airfare, cost $300.

Called Ta’amu u’R’u, or Taste and See, the 12-day program drew a broad mix of students, from those experienced studying Talmud to others who’d barely cracked a Jewish text. To a person, they found the experience deeply rewarding (and two students are now a couple). “This program was absolutely life-changing,” said Jillian Mergruen of the University of Maryland. “It showed us what it means to be in an environment to learn just for the sake of learning.”

United Synagogue hopes to raise enough funds to expand Ta’amu u’R’u to more students next year. Said Sykes: “We know that immersive Jewish experiences, to be successful, have to take place out of your regular milieu. What we offered was the trifecta – immersive Jewish learning, in an egalitarian setting, in Jerusalem.”

[Read Rabbi Loren Sykes’s article on why deep Jewish learning, not just “feeling proud,” is crucial to a vibrant future.]