I attend the University of California, San Diego, where I’m majoring in Ecology and Evolution. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been really passionate about, and the only thing I’ve wanted to study. Being at a top-tier research university gives me access to a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. And the main reason I am able to be here is because of the Brawerman Fellowship. The program has taken a tremendous load off my shoulders because I no longer have to worry so much about financing my education. I can focus more on succeeding and pursuing these new opportunities that are available to me. But while I am greatly appreciative of the financial support, I don’t think it is the most valuable thing Brawerman has given me. Let me explain.
When I interviewed for the Brawerman Fellowship, I was on my way to a Dodger game. I was honored to be considered, but I assumed that as soon as they met me, they would see that I wasn’t really deserving. I felt I wasn’t Jewish enough. Even though I am a practicing Jew, both in a cultural and religious sense, that feeling of self-doubt had always dogged me. The feeling that I am somehow less of a Jew than anybody else.
So, when I was chosen for the Fellowship, I was almost confused, and was honestly a little nervous to accept. I was concerned that the Federation thought I was somebody that, in reality, I was not. Or worse, I thought they’d require me to “be more Jewish.” I simply didn’t know what to expect.
But that’s not what they were looking for. They wanted me to be myself, to pursue my own interests, within Jewry and outside of it. The most important thing I have received from the Fellowship is confidence. Confidence not only in my Jewish identity, but in my self-identity as a whole. The Brawerman Fellowship has provided me with a stronger sense of self and has added an extra support system behind me to keep pushing me forward.
When I first got to campus, I sought out Hillel. I’m not sure I would have done that without the support of the Brawerman Fellowship and my newfound sense of pride in my Jewish identity. The leaders of UC San Diego’s Hillel had recently started a program called Triton Jewish Leaders, a leadership incubator that gives students the resources to work on whatever project they would like, in order to initiate change on campus. I joined and have been planning and executing monthly community service projects ever since. Hillel gives me a sense of community while on campus, a place I can go where people understand what it is to be Jewish and live Jewishly. That is an invaluable resource at college — a place to connect with individuals who are like-minded or have had similar experiences. And I never would have sought it out or become involved with Hillel if it weren’t for the Brawerman Fellowship supporting me and encouraging me during my transition to college life.
Outside of Hillel, often I run into situations where I have to be an advocate for Judaism because I am the only Jew in the room, or the only Jew who a person knows. I have to field questions and explain what it means to be Jewish far more than I ever expected. Two years ago, I likely would have avoided these interactions, not because I didn’t know the answers, but because I didn’t have confidence in my own Jewishness. I thought someone else would be better equipped to answer the questions. I am happy to say, though, that I no longer dread being put on the spot about Judaism. I am proud to be an ambassador for my community, and I enjoy every chance I get to represent my people and heritage.
That’s the most valuable thing the Brawerman Fellowship has given me. And I will be forever grateful to Geri Brawerman for her support, to Orly Frank for her guidance, and to the rest of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for taking a chance on me that I might be an integral part of the Jewish future. Thanks to them, I never again have to wonder if I am “Jewish enough.”
Through the Brawerman Fellowship, The Jewish Federation develops and sustains a talent pool of Jewish young leaders for our community in perpetuity. The Fellowship provides an annual $10,000 college scholarship — a total of $40,000 over four years — and participation in a larger program that builds leadership skills and further strengthens Fellows’ connection to Jewish life through retreats, a trip to Israel, and other overseas opportunities.
Each year, The Jewish Federation selects high school seniors who demonstrate academic strength, financial need, and a deep commitment to leadership, community service, and Jewish engagement to become Brawerman Fellows. Applications are now open! Visit www.JewishLA.org/Brawerman to apply. To learn more about the Brawerman Fellowship, email OFrank@JewishLA.org.