From Jewish Identity to Jewish Capital

October 19, 2016

Source: eJewish Philanthropy

Beginning two years ago, Hillel began to pioneer a new model for its engagement professionals, one which thought about these young adults as more than Jewish concierges. Hillel’s Ezra Fellowship was founded to develop a cadre of engagement professionals who were not only engaging, but were also engaged with their own Judaism. The goal of the fellowship is to develop young Jewish professionals who can provide a role model of a young adult living an engaged Jewish life. Since its first cohort in 2014, the Ezra Fellows initiative has placed 35 fellows on campuses across North America. Named for the biblical scribe who bought the Torah outside, to the water pump in the middle of the market place, Ezra fellows are trained through an extensive fellowship learning program to play the role of a Jewish peer educator on campus. The pedagogy of Ezra Fellowship training has two core foci. Firstly, the fellows are trained as experiential educators. Through mentoring from academic faculty in the field of experiential Jewish education, and training facilitated by leading practitioners in the field, the fellows are given the beginnings of an educator’s tool kit that allows them to facilitate learning experiences on campus. And secondly – and the topic on which this series of articles will focus – we invest time and resources enabling the fellows to develop their own Jewish selves – not by nebulous speculation on their “identity,” but through a rigorous program of learning that encourages them to constantly develop and refine their own Jewish questions….

To enable the Ezra Fellows to develop their own Jewish capital, we embarked on a year-round partnership with New York’s Mechon Hadar, an organization that was itself born from the experiences of its founders at Harvard Hillel some decades ago. The mandate: to facilitate a program that enabled the Ezra Fellows to develop not only content mastery, but also emotional attachment to the content they were mastering….

Over a year into the partnership, the results certainly indicate that these ongoing opportunities to accrue an affectively embedded mastery are leading to the steady acquisition of Jewish capital in our fellows. On campus, the fellows are developing relationships with students that are not incidentally Jewish, but built upon connections forged through the sharing of Jewish ideas. The mastery that they are accruing through this partnership certainly does not replicate the deep capital that is forged through years of study in, for example, rabbinical school. But regular, consistent opportunities to engage in Jewish learning allows Ezra Fellows to model for their students a way of living Jewishly in which their passion for Jewish life and learning flows into their conversations and programs organically and with deep emotional attachment.

Read the entire article at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Oct. 26, 2016