Campus Life 205:
Jewish Signposts for the Job Seeker
by Deborah Swerdlow
In high school the question was, “So what are you going to major in?”
Now it’s, “So what are you going to do with the rest of your life?”
Funny, isn’t it? We’ve been telling people what we want to be since we could talk, but now that it’s crunch time, some of us are a little lost.
But here’s the good news: Your future path might not be as hard to figure out as you think. It could be as simple as the reason you’re reading this magazine right now: your Judaism.
Here are some tips to help you fit Judaism into your post-college path:
- Consider working at Jewish organizations you’ve been involved with since childhood.
Jenni Tandet, 24, spent eleven summers at Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) camps and four years in NFTY. After graduating from Boston University in 2008 with a major in public relations and a minor in Jewish studies, she interviewed with public relations firms, but when she wasn’t finding the right fit, she switched gears, accepting a position as an administrative assistant in the URJ’s Outreach department. From there she gained enough experience and contacts to become program assistant at the Foundation for Jewish Camp (jewishcamp.org), where she stayed connected to her Judaism, saying the blessings over the wine and challah at monthly staff meetings and celebrating Chanukah in the office.
If you’re interested in finding this type of job, Jenni suggests building relationships with Jewish professionals and reconnecting with anyone and everyone you’ve met at camp, youth group, or your local Jewish community center.
You can also search for Jewish jobs at jewishjobs.com and sign up for a weekly e-mail with their newest job postings.
- Discover your passions by exploring fellowships or internships.
Jill Zimmerman, 23, spent 2008–2009 advocating for social justice as a Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Eisendrath Legislative Assistant, a one-year fellowship based in the U.S. capital. Approximately six graduating college seniors are responsible for monitoring U.S. legislation, activating grassroots advocacy campaigns, communicating with senators and representatives, and planning several L’Taken high school seminars (a four-day study kallah on social justice issues).
Focusing on women’s issues, healthcare, and immigration, Jill “sat at the same table with lawyers and people who had been doing this for 20 or more years and was able to learn from them. What an incredible opportunity.”
The LA fellowship fueled Jill’s interest in public policy. Now she works as an operations associate for Louisiana Practitioner Teachers Program at the New Teacher Project, which helps recruit new teachers.
Jamie Silverstein, 23, discovered her love of working in Jewish communal service in 2008–2009, when she was selected as the one Bronfman Fellow at Hillel’s Schusterman International Center in Washington, D.C. Working directly with Hillel International President Wayne L. Firestone, Jamie got to advise the president on “what was hot on campus”; plan Hillel’s 85th birthday celebration; and develop Global Campus Initiative, a supplemental Jewish experience for students studying abroad (but not in Israel).
Because Jamie’s favorite part of the fellowship was working with students, she applied for and was hired as the director of engagement for Hillel at George Washington University.
Other possible fellowships include the New Israel Fund/Shatil Social Justice Fellowship in Israel; the American Jewish World Partners Fellowship in India; the Dorot Fellowship in Israel; and the BBYO's Professional Development Institute.
Whereas these fellowships are highly competitive, internships can be easier to land because many organizations are looking for extra help. Sometimes that means accepting an unpaid position, but chances are you’ll walk away with valuable work experience and a better sense of what you’re looking for in a job.
Don’t be afraid to contact organizations that interest you. Networking has become even more important in this economic downturn, and employers will likely admire your initiative and interest in their organization. Make sure to do your homework, learning about what the company does and how you might contribute. A cover letter is a great way to paint a picture of your interest in the organization. Try not to send the same general letter to multiple organizations because that tells an employer you didn’t take the time to get to know their business. Check out the career resources at your university for more advice on cover letters and resumes.
You may also want to consider applying to Teach For America (teachforamerica.org), which trains high-achieving grads to teach in poverty-stricken districts. Last year TFA offered more than 500 new sites for a record 4,100 student recruits who signed up for five weeks of training and a two-year commitment.
- Volunteer or join an internship program in Israel.
After graduating from Boston University in May 2009 with BAs in psychology and history, Nicole Thalheimer, 23, went on to Career Israel (careerisrael.com), a five-month internship post-college program based in Tel Aviv for 21–30-year-olds that’s part of MASA (abetterstimulusplan.org). As MASA’s URL suggests, traveling to Israel after college can be a smart personal investment during these tough economic times. The number of post-college MASA participants has tripled since 2004, and Career Israel is the most popular internship program.
“When I sit back and think about some of the things I did at Hagar and Miriam, an Israeli organization that helps pregnant African refugees receive health care, it still boggles my mind,” Nicole says. “I literally held the mother’s leg and yelled, ‘Push’ while she was giving birth.”
Nicole now plans to enter a clinical psychology doctorate program. The Career Israel internship reassured her that she is entering the right field and deepened her Jewish identity.
If you prefer to volunteer in Israel, MASA can connect you to one of its 13 post-college programs, including one that partners with the Union for Reform Judaism—Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa (tikunolamisrael.org), a five- or 10-month program for young adults ages 22–27 who participate in one of two tracks: community service or coexistence.
After four “unsatisfying” years of working as an IT consultant, Ianiv Eisenscher, 26, became a Tikkun Olam volunteer in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, where he tutored at an elementary school with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students; assisted children with disabilities at a therapeutic riding center; and taught English at a high school for children with behavioral problems.
He now plans to pursue a career at a nonprofit organization in the U.S. or possibly in Israel.
- Consider exploring a career in Jewish service through HUC–JIR.
There are more paths to Jewish service than you might think. The Reform seminary HUC-JIR (huc.edu) offers degrees for careers in the rabbinate, the cantorate, education, community service, Jewish studies, nonprofit management, and more. There’s even a 13-month paid fellowship, the DeLeT program, which certifies students to teach at Jewish day schools in California.
After an internship with a senator in Australia during his junior year at Michigan State University, Ben Zeidman, 26, changed course from international relations to the rabbinate. Becoming a rabbi, he decided, was “the most fun job I could think of.”
Ordained at HUC-JIR, Cincinnati this past June, Rabbi Zeidman finds that “no day is the same. You get to be involved with people and people’s lives in the best of times and in the worst of times. It’s a career of constant learning and growth.”
Whatever you decide, b’hatzlacha (“good luck” in Hebrew)—and enjoy your post-college adventures!
—Deborah Swerdlow, a 2010 University of Florida graduate with dual degrees in journalism and Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures