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August 23, 2002 - Image 31

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-08-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

feels uncomfortable not doing as much — or doing
more — than someone else. It's just a place to have
Shabbat dinner, learn about Judaism and be good
friends with an amazing rabbi."
"The kids come from all spectrums," Rabbi
Eisemann says. "Those who had little or no Jewish
background have been blown away by how beautiful
Judaism is and how much it has to offer. My job is to
let them taste the beauty of the Torah and after that it
goes by itself."
Machon's priority on Jewish awareness, which
includes workplace-based classes, branched out to uni-
versity students 20 years ago. The program founder,
Machon LTorah Rabbi Avraham Jacobovitz, initially
focused on students at U-M and Michigan State
University in East Lansing. He expanded the program
to colleges throughout the state and in Ontario.
While he continues to organize learning sessions and
classes with students at other universities, the large
Jewish population at U-M made it the focus of the
most intense programming, including the purChase of
the JRC building as its home base on Hill Street in
Ann Arbor.
"Lecturing and programs that I conduct on other
campuses actually began as a request from a few MSU
students almost 21 years ago," Rabbi Jacobovitz says.
"Most of the programming at all the schools takes
place in their Hillel buildings, but any student group
on any campus is welcome to contact us and we will
help organize and advertise the programs."

Inside The JRC

Activities at the JRC include educational and social
programming, concerts, Shabbat retreats, learning sem-
inars, trips to Israel, tours of Jewish communities and
guest lecturers.
Although some areas of the JRC building are used
for overnight guests or are rented out to subsidize pro-
gramming, it is primarily set up as a learning center.
Much of the main level consists of a single, large room
whose walls hold a Jewish lending library. The room is
used for classes, programs, social events, Saturday
lunches and weekly Friday night Shabbat dinners for
up to 80 students, which are followed by discussions
on contemporary Jewish issues.
"It is encouraging and motivating to see the large
room full of people learning about Judaism, discussing
topics, sharing interesting quotes," Rabbi Eisemann
says. "With so many kids, coming for classes becomes
social. It's like peer pressure for a good thing."
A Hebrew language group and the JRC Torah-Team
also meet there, with students studying Jewish topics or
texts with peer mentors, mostly coming to the center
from the Detroit metro area.

Beyond The JRC Walls

Away from the JRC building, the Book-A-Rabbi pro-
gram allows students to schedule time to meet with
Rabbis Eisemann or Jacobovitz, for studying, asking
questions or just shmoozing.
"Students meet with me for a cup of coffee and say
things like, 'My roommate asks me questions about
Judaism, but I don't know the answers,' or 'I always
had a lot of questions, but I didn't know who to ask,'"
Rabbi Eisemann says. "I think every Jew would love to
learn about their Judaism, but with so much going on

in their lives, students can't always be motivated to. So
I make learning more available to them."
Another successful mode of extending Jewish aware-
ness to students has been through the computer. "I got
involved with the JRC through e-mail," Max Puchtel,
21, says of the "Spread JAM" message sent to him by a
friend three years ago.
"Since then, I've made time to really utilize [the
JRC] as an amazing resource," says the U-M senior
from Minneapolis, who participates in the one-to-one
Torah-Team program.
"They have provided and continue to provide me
with honest, sincere and valuable life lessons and prac-
tices that I can only describe as life-changing," Puchtel
says. "There is no doubt. in my mind that they've been
the greatest Jewish resource and influence I've ever
"Of all our programs, one of the most amazing is
the deli dinners," Kessler says of the no-charge, kosher
dinner and Jewish discussion sessions held in rotating
dormitory, fraternity or sorority houses each weeknight.
Rabbis Jacobovitz or Eisemann lead the sessions.
"Some students who haven't been to the JRC may
be apprehensive about coming. So we come to them,
says Rabbi Eisemann.
The sessions are casual. "There's no note-taking, but
no one ever leaves not learning something," says
Kessler, who sees the benefits of the program as going
much further than Jewish learning.
"Meeting in the dorms helps those who live there
make friends with other Jewish kids," she says. "And
after the deli dinners, kids are more comfortable corn-
- ing into the JRC building for Shabbat dinner or to talk
or learn."
Kessler's hope is to expand the program from its
current six sites to every dorm on campus.


What's Up Next?

Rabbi Eisemann's summer has been spent making
contacts with Jews in other cities.
While he continually plans Shabbat activities on
campus, he sometimes arranges Shabbatons in Oak
Park for students or graduates "to get away in a
Shabbos atmosphere. He also helps students who
travel or move away to other cities to get acclimated
in their new Jewish communities.
While making planS for a semester in Spain this
winter, Karen Schwartz of West Bloomfield checked
in with Rabbi Eisemann for help with housing and
Jewish communal contacts.
"Hopefully, with Rabbi Eisemann's help, I'll be
able to build a base," she says of her hopes to inter-
view Spanish Jews on what it means to be Jewish in
Spain. She says the rabbi "is trying to help me touch
base with community leaders and potential people
to be interviewed and issues the community faces."
A program the JRC is starting this fall at U-M is
the Maimonides Jewish Leader Training Fellowship.
"The idea is for students to receive a stipend in
exchange for not taking a part-time job," says Rabbi
Eisemann. "Instead they will devote two hours a
week to Jewish studies, take five trips to Jewish insti-
tutions, meet Jewish leaders in Detroit and other
cities and see how Jewish communities are run."
A 10-week, two-hour course is included, with
half the time spent on Torah study and the second

half featuring lectures by different Jewish leaders
each week. The visitors will talk about how Judaism
Manifests itself in their individual fields, including
law, business and medicine, Rabbi Eisemann says.
"They will tell how they are able to be Jewish while
still being successful in their professions and will
share experiences in both areas."
Students who have not signed up for the fellow-
ship (15 spots were available) may still participate in
any part of the program. Sponsors Dr. and Mrs.
David Weingarten of Southfield are providing par-
tial funding.
"This program has great promise of getting stu-
dents involved, not only as bystanders, but actively
in leadership roles," Rabbi Jacobovitz says. "We see
those who participate as being a great asset, making
a great impact on our Jewish communities. We are
hoping to duplicate this program at other universi-
ties nationwide."

Members Only

Like most JRC programs, there is no charge to
become a member of the group — but in a way, it's
not exactly free.
Because funding for the JRC comes from Machon
fund-raising events and individual donors, member-
ship payment comes in the form of participating in
at least one of 10 Jewish awareness options. Choices
for students include an hour a month of Jewish
study, attending High Holiday services, making a
commitment to visit Israel within the next five years,
reading a JAM-recommended book on Jewish
thought, attending Shabbat dinner once a month,
learning or teaching the Hebrew alphabet or hang-
ing a mezuzah on their door post.
"This is not a huge commitment," says Kessler, a
junior at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti,
where several JRC members are in school. "What
Jew wouldn't want to spread Jewish awareness to
other Jews?"
In less than a year, JAM has spread beyond the
campus of U-M, with the launching of JAAM, or
Jewish Awareness America. A December 2001 pilot
program introduced a group of Georgia college stu-
dents to the concept, with the hope that other cam-
puses will soon join in.
"The goal of JAM is to reach students who are
not having the opportunity to study Judaism in
depth in their adult lives," Rabbi Eisemann says.
"Most of our students went to Hebrew school, but
now they can explore Judaism = not because their
parents told them to, but because they want to.
"The idea is to make Judaism accessible for them
to explore it," he says. "This is the time they are
shaping their lives and their futures. They may soon
choose a spouse and a career and this is a time to
determine how much of a role Judaism will play in
their lives." ❑

The Jewish Resource Center in Ann Arbor is at
1335 Hill Street. For information on attending
Machon LTorah classes and events on college
campuses or to help fund programs, contact
Machon LTorah at (248) 967-0888 or access
the Web site at: www.machordtorah.org

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