Reaching Out to the Community
Internship program one of several new developments at the Center for Jewish Studies
As senior Jewish studies major Beth Rosenberg approached her final semester at UF, she anxiously contemplated her career options after graduation. So when UF Center for Jewish Studies (CJS) director and political science professor Ken Wald invited her to participate in the Center's new internship program as a nursing home volunteer, she gladly accepted. "I feel very fortunate," says Rosenberg. "My internship confirmed that I did want to pursue social work, particularly with senior citizens."
Rosenberg is one of approximately ten students who have accepted service-oriented internships through CJS this year, and Wald believes her positive experience typifies the program. "The idea behind the internships is to make coursework relevant in the lives of our students, whether they plan to continue with academics or begin outside careers," he says.
CJS interns receive one hour of academic credit for every three weekly hours of scheduled service, but academic credit is not the prime motivation for students interested in the program. Matt Fieldman, a senior psychology major who interned at the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee's February conference at UF, says, "Being a leader in the Jewish community is a fun, educational, and rewarding experience. I jumped at the chance to do this."
Wald is also pleased that the internship program offers students an opportunity to become acquainted with local Jewish residents and institutions that might otherwise go unappreciated. "The program helps them discover the rich, active world of Jewish communal life out there. Jewish newspapers, family centers, political groups--many students aren't aware that these kinds of things exist."
Senior Debbie Paperman strengthened her ties with Gainesville's Jewish community while working on the current Harn Museum exhibition of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe photographs by Roman Vishniac. "I helped solicit and obtain material from local residents to add to the exhibit," says Paperman. The collected photographs, printed stories, and mementos are being used to create a Memory Wall and open notebook in remembrance of ancestors who died in the Holocaust.
Wald says the most gratifying aspect of the new internship program comes with encouraging his students' hunger to serve. "For many students, the mitzvah, a commandment to go out and heal the world, is one of the most appealing aspects of Judaism," he explains. "Our internships can facilitate that desire."
The new focus on internships is just one part of an ongoing reinvention of the Center for Jewish Studies. The Center also promotes a study abroad program in Israel, sponsors an annual series of lectures and programs, and offers both an undergraduate major and minor. And--thanks to alumni support and a grant from Steven Speilberg's Righteous Persons Foundation--the CJS recently acquired an extraordinary resource, the Jewish Heritage Video Collection (JHVC). The collection contains over 200 international films and television programs, from Hollywood releases such as Private Benjamin, to art-house productions such as Au Revoir, Les Enfants, to animated children's specials such as The Mitzvah Machine. "An incredible range of the Jewish experience is covered," says Wald.
Wald intends to make the JHVC available throughout the university, and he also hopes to share the collection with interested area public schools. "Florida requires its high schools to teach Holocaust education, so we're looking into working with them on that," he says.
"It's an exciting time for the Center," Wald continues. "We have so many opportunities to make a difference in people's lives."