My name is Nathan Bentolila, and I am a Brawerman Fellow and Bioengineering major currently in my second year at UC Berkeley (Cal). Even with Cal’s demanding work load, over the past 3 semesters I have taken part in a variety of academic and non-academic clubs and student groups. I work in a lab, am on two intermural sports teams, and am also very involved in the Jewish community. I am a regular member of my campus’ Hillel and the president of the campus Chabad. At Chabad, we hold weekly Jewish events and host Friday night dinners every week. I have also been very involved in our campus’ Zionist club: Tikvah Students for Israel, where I’m the vice president and participate in the planning of 10-15 events per semester. Last spring, we organized Hebrew Liberation Week, attended by hundreds of students, and this past October we hosted Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz for an event, which drew more than 400 students.
Making the decision to attend UC Berkeley was not the easiest for me. As one of only a handful of orthodox Jewish students, I put myself in a very unique position. I realized that for many students I might be the first Jewish person they meet, and I understood that my answers and comments have an impact. By extension, I also seem to represent the Jewish state on my campus — and on a campus like Berkeley, being openly Jewish and supportive of Israel can sometimes be uncomfortable and even intimidating. For this reason, I felt it was imperative for me (and other Jewish students) to be confident of my Jewish identity and connection to the state of Israel and articulate accordingly. It is my duty to make it clear that being a Zionist Jew is part of my Jewish identity and also part of the diversity of this country. This was best manifested this past semester at a counter-demonstration held by Tikvah Students for Israel. Dozens of Jewish students came out to stand up for the state of Israel. Later in the semester, senior lecturer and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) founder Hatem Bazian had shared a series of anti-Semitic tweets. The entire Jewish community at Cal came together and sent a very strong letter to the University administration, demanding that the school take action against Bazian. The message was loud and clear: Jewish students are proud of their connection to the Jewish state and will not be intimidated by anti-Israel groups and professors on campus.
Being part of the Brawerman Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to be part of a greater network of strong Jewish leaders. Meeting other student leaders and learning from their experiences has helped me on my campus. I was lucky enough to not be the only Brawerman fellow at Berkeley. The other Brawerman fellows at Berkeley have mentored me and guided me in my adjustment to college life and Jewish life on campus. I am very thankful to The Jewish Federation and the opportunities it has provided me.
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 due by February 20th! Visit www.JewishLA.org/Brawerman to apply. To learn more about the Brawerman Fellowship, e-mail OFrank@JewishLA.org.