When I arrived at UCLA as a freshman in 2016, I was unsure how my involvement in the Jewish community would evolve without my home congregation or my monthly retreats with the National Federation of Temple Youth. Little did I know that the Brawerman Fellowship would be the key to redefining my Jewish journey as an adult.
Being honored with a Brawerman Fellowship comes with connections, leadership development, and opportunities to which I had never been exposed. The advantages became apparent at my first summer retreat for the fellowship before my freshman year started. Our retreats are filled with interesting and intense programming from a variety of Jewish organizations in the Los Angeles area, and one of our first speakers was Danielle Natelson, Director of Student Learning at Hillel at UCLA.
I knew there was a strong Jewish community at UCLA, but didn’t know if I would want to be involved. As soon as the Fellows introduced themselves, and I stated that UCLA was my new home, Danielle was eager for me to join the community not only as a participant, but also as a leader. Accepting her invitation, I attended Hillel’s Student Leadership Retreat and became a Freshman Engagement Fellow, working to bring other first-year students to Hillel. Without being fully aware of it, The Jewish Federation and the Brawerman Fellowship had already laid out a few of the stepping stones for shaping my future Jewish journey.
The Brawerman Fellowship has also introduced me to some incredible mentors and opportunities that connect my passion for activism with Judaism. Exactly a year after meeting Danielle at my first retreat, I had the pleasure of meeting Aubrey Harris, Director of Public Affairs & Government at The Jewish Federation. She was a speaker at my second summer retreat. Of course, no story about one’s Jewish journey would be complete without some Jewish geography, and finding out Aubrey had the same strong relationships and similar experiences as I did with our local representatives only fueled my motivation to become more involved in organizations that advanced Jewish values and my interest in government.
Concurrently, a friend at Hillel posted in our leadership Facebook group about an internship with a local organization, the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC). JPAC, the largest single-state coalition of Jewish organizations in the nation (including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles), advocates for a variety of legislative initiatives and was the perfect hybrid of my love of politics and for the Jewish community. Not only did the skills I developed through the Brawerman Fellowship, such as engaging in intergroup dialogue and learning how to talk about controversial issues such as Israel, help me secure my JPAC internship, but also my connection to individuals such as Aubrey proved invaluable when I was looking for ways to get involved.
Now, in my second year at UCLA, I am working on student engagement for JPAC, where we will recruit and bring 10 students to our annual Lobby Day in Sacramento. There, we will teach them lobbying skills and the connection it has to Jewish values. I am still in student leadership at Hillel, plus a variety of other student groups such as student government, where I head an advocacy team focused on engaging with Westwood local governance and UC Advocacy. Just recently, I began to learn more about AIPAC and will be attending my first Policy Conference in March. Just a year ago, I would never have thought that I would become deeply invested and interested in Israel and the politics which surround it, yet now I am organizing an anti-BDS event as a delegate for the California Democratic Party for our convention next month.
At the time, my decisions and involvements seemed to be an odd combination of academic interests and organizations, with no correlation in sight. Now I am able to understand the connection between them all — the Brawerman Fellowship. The Fellowship has truly shaped a future Jewish leader — one who is passionate about Jewish values and dedicated to paying it forward in any way possible. For this, I am eternally grateful, and I cannot wait to see how being a Brawerman Fellow continues to add to my Jewish journey in the coming years.
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.