Hi! My name is Sophie Ritt and I am a rising Fourth Year at the University of Virginia. At UVA I am studying Psychology and Elementary Education.
While in Israel I am interning with the women’s empowerment organization, El Halev. El Halev strives to reduce gender-based violence through martial arts and self-defense. Although their hub is in Jerusalem, El Halev holds self-defense classes throughout Israel and around the world.
This summer I have been working as a Madricha for El Halev’s summer camp, as well as helping with administrative work. At the camp, Israeli and Arab girls from Jerusalem learn martial arts and self-defense in a safe and positive environment. I have been given the opportunity to teach a jazz dance class for the campers as well. This is very significant to me as I have always loved dance and it has been so amazing sharing this passion with my campers. One of my favorite moments at the camp so far was catching a few of the campers practicing the dance I taught them during their free time!
I am so grateful to Onward for giving me the opportunity to work with such a special organization. El Halev welcomed me with open arms and I truly believe that the work they are doing is incredibly important and impactful. Although I feel like the end of the summer is rapidly approaching, I know that I will always have a home at El Halev.
My name is Grant Campion and I am a rising third year from Norfolk, VA studying Public Policy and Environmental Science! This summer, I'm participating in the Onward Hillel Tel Aviv program and am lucky enough to be living and interning in the city. My internship is with Goodvision, the Corporate Social Responsibility branch of Grant Thornton Group. Through my work, I have gained incredible insight into international consulting and corporate sustainability. I am fortunate enough to go to multiple meetings, conferences, and luncheons with clients around Tel Aviv and truly experience the "global market".
I live with three other UVA students (Jackson Moser, Nir Diskin, and Matt Mandel) and our typical days include going to the beach, discovering new restaurants and coffee shops, exploring the Shuks (markets) and, traveling around Tel Aviv and Israel!
My favorite day in Tel Aviv so far was two Fridays ago, when I woke up early to go to the Old North Farmer's Market, met some people at the beach, then headed to a rooftop sunset event with new friends from our program. We ended the party with a nice dinner on the famous Rothschild Avenue!
My favorite Onward programming experience thus far was definitely traveling to Gush Etzion where we discussed the ongoing conflict with both Israelis and Palestinians.Hearing from both sides is an invaluable experience and gives a much clearer perspective as to how the conflict actually impacts citizens on a day-to-day basis. The rest of our day in the West Bank was spent hiking and visiting a famous bakery that employs both Israelis and Palestinians.
If anyone has any more questions about daily life, the onward application process, or needs recommendations for Tel Aviv, please don't hesitate to reach out!
Asalaamalekum! That’s how we say “hello” here in Senegal where I have had the privilege of spending my summer. My name is Gabby Posner, and I am a rising third year in the Batten school, studying Public Policy and Economics. I ventured to Senegal this summer to co-lead a research project with my friend and research partner, Grace Wood. Together, we are qualitatively researching poverty as it affects female-headed households in Senegal. Our research aims to discover if, as claimed, female-headed households are less poor, and, if so, what economic, social, and political factors could account for this. Our daily routine involves taxiing to an interview spot for the day where we then conduct individual interviews and focus groups. At the start of next semester, Grace and I will analyze our data under the advice of our faculty advisor, Professor Jeanine Braithwaite, to prepare to present our findings at the Southern Economic Association conference in November!
Aside from the academic side of my experience in Senegal, I have found a deep appreciation for the Senegalese people and culture. In preparation for my trip, I went through countless measures to find a Jewish community in Senegal. As nerdy as it is, I always remembered the song from Hebrew school that says, “wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish!” Well, I can assure you that the song is unfortunately mistaken. I have been unsuccessful in my search, which included contacting the rabbi of the Chabad of Central Africa, meeting with past Jewish Fulbright scholars, and asking around in the local population. For the first time in my life, I am the only Jew in my neighborhood — maybe even in the country — as Senegal is about 95% Muslim.
I can genuinely say that this experience has only further benefited my ability to immerse myself in the culture, while also reflecting on my Jewish identity internally. I live with a Muslim host family, with whom I often discuss (to the best of my French-speaking ability) the close similarities between Judaism and Islam. As the first Jew they have ever met, I have the great responsibility of accurately portraying my own community of Jews back at home, in the rest of the diaspora, and in Israel. For example, when I first told my family that I am Jewish, they did not understand how I could be Jewish and American (as in not Israeli). Even as a Jew, I find immense value in participating in the Islamic traditions practiced by my host family. During Eid al-Fitr, the last day of Ramadan, I spent the entire day celebrating with my host family while wearing the traditional Senegalese dress that I had purchased with my host aunt the day prior. No matter where I go in this world, my Jewish identity will always come along with me. This unique quality is a true gift and a source of pride for me. It has allowed me to build a relationship with Senegal, not only as a researcher, an American, and a UVA student but as a Jew and most importantly a WaJew!
Hello, my name is Sophie Dornfeld and I am doing an internship at Hadassah Hospital in Mt. Scopus. At home, I am half way through my four-year Nursing program, so it made sense to volunteer on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and the Maternity Ward here in Jerusalem. For almost 100 years, Hadassah Hospital has been a leader in the Israeli medical scene and has paved the way for new medical inventions and quality healthcare.
This week, I have spent the majority of my time in the NICU assisting wherever I can, whether that be feeding the babies, giving baths, cleaning up, filling syringes with sucrose, or folding laundry. My favorite task is to be an “on-call cuddler,” where I basically walk around and soothe crying babies.
I also love interacting with the babies who are just a few hours old and witnessing happy parents embrace their new children. Every day at Hadassah is filled with new adventures and things to do/see. Today, I got to feed a baby who weighted 2.3 kg, which is just over 5 pounds. Holding a baby that tiny in my arms really made me think about how precious life is and how incredible it is to have the opportunity to welcome newborns into this world and care for them.
Working on this unit has also allowed me to improve my Hebrew, as the nurses encourage me to only use Hebrew in order to better communicate with families and coworkers. It is such a fun and happy place to work and I always leave with a huge smile on my face!
This summer I’m interning in New Delhi, India with The Mrida Group, a social enterprise dedicated to development work throughout rural India. I am working with their Earthspired brand, which seeks to develop market linkages for rural farmers in order to create and sustain livelihood practices. This experience has been incredible, challenging me in many ways. From learning to navigate a new workplace culture to understanding how to travel throughout India, each experience has truly taught me new knowledge about this country and about myself.
Many times throughout the summer, I have been placed in what would typically be considered “uncomfortable" situations.” 118 degrees Fahrenheit weather, absolutely hectic traveling situations, and many different social norms have often created times where I was, let’s just say, less than thrilled. Yet, I have really tried to take each of these experiences in stride, not because I want connect more deeply to my own thoughts and feelings, but because I have an opportunity to connect with those of others. Indeed, being in this new environment has given me a unique opportunity to grapple with the all-important word— perspective.
And oddly enough, I think the place that has taught me the most about this word at UVA is Hillel. It would seem that Hillel might not be the place most conducive to showing me different perspectives on a variety of topics…everyone does happen to be Jewish! Yet, I often feel, with the grounding of our Judaism allowing us to connect, the people I’ve met at Hillel have showed me diverse perspectives far beyond what I expected. From different conceptions about Israel, religiosity, and traditions to broader thoughts on UVA and general life advice, the friends I have made through Hillel have truly exposed me to new ideas much different than my own. Having a basis that we can connect with on a deep level allows us to delve into intense conversations that I have found to be incredibly impactful. This exposure has helped me navigate the tough situations I have faced here, and is something that I will forever be grateful for.
Thinking ahead to this school year, I am so excited to come back to Hillel. I plan to continue my involvement in many different aspects of Hillel, and hope to try something new as well. As always, it will be exciting to meet the new Jewish students, and hopefully I can help them navigate their first year experience, both with Hillel and with UVA at large. It’s incredibly comforting to know that I have Hillel to come back to when I return to Charlottesville, and I’m looking forward to another fantastic year.
Q. How do you get over 50 students up a mountain on a Sunday morning in the rain?
On erev Rosh Hashanah, First Year Connection organized the first outing of the year- apple picking on Carter’s Mountain. Some go for the socializing, some go for the apples, but if we’re being honest, most go for the Apple Cider Donuts.
A record-breaking 60 first years signed up for the event. All weekend it looked like the rain might get in the way of this annual tradition. The number of drivers needed continued to increase, but with the rain pouring, there was a good chance only a few students would show up or the event would need to be postponed. Things were looking grey.
Nevermind that, Craig and Gabby, our FYC Co-Chairs charged on. Ten Upperclassmen convened at Ohill with their cars, and to everyone’s delight, most of the first year students decided to go too! Cars filled up and the group headed to Carter’s Mountain to celebrate the sweet new year and explore a new place with new people.
But this event wasn’t just impactful for first years.
On the drive there, fourth year Annie Weinberg shared advice and stories with the first year girls in her car. They asked about classes, social life, Greek life, and interesting organizations to get involved with at UVa. It was a chance for Annie to reflect on her time, and a chance for the new students to get excited for the next four years.
Matt Keitlemann (Fourth year) reflected:
“I got to come back to the first activity I did with Hillel as a first year and meet all the new first years and hang out with my upperclassman friends.”
The mountain was quiet and covered in fog, but that didn’t damper the spirit. The group of 60 played a competitive game of “rock-paper-scissors” to get to know one another. There was cheering and chanting and laughing. After grabbing their bags, they braced the muddy hills with enthusiasm and began picking their apples.
Of course no one would leave hungry! This was the first year that Hillel was able to purchase apples and donuts for the whole group. After students lined up to weigh their apples, they sat together and enjoyed the freshly made, hot apple cider donuts on a cold rainy day.
Q. How do you get over 50 students up a mountain on a Sunday morning in the rain?
A. Teamwork, positivity, and a lot of donuts.
JLC participates in UPC Springfest
Every year, the University Programs Council (UPC) hosts a ginormous event called Springfest in which there is food, music, and games. This year, UPC invited different student organizations to have a booth in which to interact and engage with students attending Springfest. JLC decided to teach and share an old Jewish tradition, the one in which you carry a note in each pocket; one saying "I am but dust and ashes", the other saying "The world was created for me". We explained that this idea promotes keeping balance in life and reminding yourself to be humble at times, and proud during others. JLC had blank wooden disks and sharpies for people to write something on each side, to remind you to stay balanced. JLC shared this tradition with several hundred UVa students, and they loved this project and got really creative with it. Students wrote things like, "I am great at so many things ... But I have a lot to learn", "Stay patient ... Stay ambitious", and even "Lemons ... Lemonade". It was so fun to see how people interpreted this old Jewish tradition into their modern lives.
JLC participates in Day of Smiles
Every year, the ANGELS Society (a secret society on Grounds) invites different organizations to participate in Day of Smiles; to do something that will somehow spread joy throughout UVa as finals season is approaching and people are becoming more stressed every day. This year, JLC purchased 250+ fun little toys and gave them out throughout the day on South Lawn, where many students pass throughout the day to get to and from classes. Every student that took a toy visibly smiled and was truly excited by a small toy that brought them back to their childhood. It was truly a fun way to lift the spirits of UVa students, leaving everyone involved smiling.
Before Passover of 2015, Sam’s family hadn’t hosted a seder since the passing of her great grandparents. They passed when she was twelve, and it wasn’t until she moved from Long Island to Charlottesville for her first year at UVa that Sam really began cultivating a relationship with her Judaism again.
By her second year at UVa, she’d become a regular at weekly Shabbat dinners and services. She’d gotten involved with Israel-advocacy, and had made a close circle of Jewish friends within the community at Hillel.
“I was the one in my family to really start reviving those traditions,” she said. “I felt like some of my family’s Jewish identity died when my great grandparents did.”
That’s why during Passover of 2015, Sam decided to bring her dad and brother to the Brody Jewish Center’s first night seder. She wanted them to see firsthand the relationship she’d been building with her Judaism and with the Jewish community.
And when thinking back on that seder, Sam remembers watching it click for her dad, and remembers how affected he was by the experience. “During that seder, I think his life really changed,” she said. “After the seder, he said to me ‘I get it, now.’ He understood why I embraced this lifestyle.”
“Hillel brought Judaism back to my dad,” Sam said. “It was possible because of this beautiful, warm community. He felt welcome and comfortable.”
Three years later, Sam says she and her dad light candles when they’re together Friday nights. They’re going together on his first trip to Israel, and she’s celebrating Passover with other Hillel at UVa alum in D.C. She says her dad is on his own path with exploring Judaism now, and is grateful that Hillel at UVa could help build that bridge.
We then headed to Negril and first stopped at an overpriced souvenir shop. I found a Jamaican Red Sox hat, so I was satisfied. Our next stop was Margaritaville. The drinks were unsurprisingly overpriced, but Sophie and David each managed to win a free margarita. The water was a bit chilly as the weather was overcast. After a couple hours we headed to a local restaurant for lunch. Sean was brave enough to order curried goat while the rest of us opted for more familiar meals. He described the goat as "chewy." Sophie also asked that I mention her fish was served whole including the head and spine.
Once lunch ended we headed to the self-proclaimed world famous Ricks Cafe. Not only were the drinks overpriced, but they were also poorly mixed. David again won a prize for knowing Red Stripe Beer's motto: what's good. Unfortunately, this prize was not a free drink. The cafe also has a few cliff jumping spots, with the highest one topping out roughly forty feet. Only Matt, David, and I took the plunge from this height. I landed firmly in my butt on the first jump and even after ten hours it still hurts. For the next few hours, we passed the time relaxing, eating, swimming, and half-heartedly dancing. Throughout the course of the trip, it has become evident that I'm clearly the best dancer.
Anyways, we stayed at Rick's for the "world famous" sunset, which was tremendously underwhelming. We then raced out of the cafe to beat the masses of people leaving as well. The day ended with a going away party hosted by Mr. Brown and the host families at the Association of clubs. We discussed our favorite moments of the trip and ended the night with singing and dancing. It was a memorable way to end our stay in Jamaica.
This blog post was written by Sean Epstein.
Today was Friday, and it was our last day volunteering at Petersfield Primary & Infant School. I took a risk and volunteered myself to help out with the infants. I had worked with young kids in the past in my temple during Sunday school, but that was only for two hours once a week. This was a whole new level, as I was with three year olds for about five hours. We reviewed the letters of the alphabet, days of the week, and simple shapes. During the afternoon, we painted and created art. To my surprise, they allowed to me to keep all of the art work that we worked on as a class as a thank you gift. Throughout the day, I had flashbacks to my own time in preschool, which was a nice distraction from the work that is building for me when I return to UVa.
The school presented the group with multiple thank you gifts as a send off. Both grade 5 and 6 classes wrote personalized thank you notes to us, and we received a thank you from a group of students that we befriended throughout the week.
After four days at the school, I can say that our work was beneficial, but I also questioned if I personally was helpful. Yes I helped paint the wall outside the school and interacted with the students. But oftentimes I felt when I was teaching math to grade 4 or doing practice tests with grade 6, if my presence was more of a hindrance than help. In the math room on Monday, I was unsure if my teaching was getting across to the children because I felt they were more distracted with a foreigner being inches from them than trying learning math. On Thursday, I attempted to help grade 6 with a practice science GSAT test, but I am horrible at science and for a few questions I didn’t know I tried to guess, but I knew the students knew I didn’t know the answers. Regardless, I felt my most important contribution was just being there with the students and interacting with them on a human-to-human level, rather than a teacher-student level.
In the evening we had Shabbat services and dinner. We studied passages from Exodus for Torah study and had a small Shabbat service before devouring a beautiful feast prepared by each of our host mothers. The table was filled with chicken, salad, wine, potato salad and, of course, rice and beans. After Shabbat, the group chilled at Mama J’s house for the evening, where we all mentally prepared ourselves for going to Negril and relaxing at the beach during our last full day here.
The Brody Jewish Center, Hillel at the University of Virginia, is the focal point in a renaissance of Jewish life for the 1,000 Jewish students on Grounds.