JAC gives UA students new Jewish perspective
Rabbi Eli Adler of Jewish Arizonans on Campus (left) and University of Arizona student Zach Stephens study Jewish topics at the UA Starbucks.
Special to the AJP
Zev Dever, a University of Arizona freshman from Bedford, N.Y., arrived on campus in the fall with a slew of spiritual questions.
“I was skeptical about divinity, curious about spirituality, and already serious about morality. I wanted to explore my connection to these things from a Jewish standpoint but didn’t really know where to start,” says Dever.
He found answers through Jewish Arizonans on Campus, or JAC, which offers a 10-week “Maimonides Leaders Fellowship.” Participants receive a $400 stipend if they attend all of the classes.
“Maimonides seemed, and turned out to be, the perfect thing for me,” says Dever, who is now taking the advanced Maimonides class and plans to become a Jewish educator himself.
JAC got its start in 2005, when its founder and director, Rabbi Jordan Brumer, amoved to Arizona from California, where he’d started a popular Shabbat program and taught a weekly class on the campus of the University of California-San Diego. Previously, he and his wife had worked at a youth hostel in Jerusalem, hosting Shabbat dinners for hundreds of college students.
“It’s clear that there’s a need to provide Jews with an opportunity to learn what their heritage is,” says Brumer, who is concerned about the high rate of assimilation among American Jewish college students.
JAC, says Brumer, gives students “a non-threatening environment” in which to learn about Judaism and meet other Jewish students.
Leah Rafal, a UA sophomore, has also attended both the beginning and advanced level Maimonides classes.
Originally from Phoenix, Rafal was raised in a Conservative Jewish home. “I had the same Jewish experience my whole life,” she said. “[Maimonides] opened me up to different views than what I had been exposed to.” The class, she says, taught her about how many different kinds of Jewish beliefs exist within one label.
But not all JAC learning happens in the classroom.
“My favorite part of Maimonides was without a doubt the two weekend Shabbatonim,” says Dever, marking the weekend outings as the point in the semester-long program where everyone really began to bond.
JAC also organizes winter and summer trips to New York, California and Israel at prices geared to a college student’s budget. It also offers weekly Talmud classes, lunch-and-learn sessions and one-on-one study sessions.
Students can be seen all over campus having lunch or coffee with Brumer or one of his three JAC colleagues, Rabbi Eli Adler, Rabbi Yudi Moskowitz or Aaron Rosen. The one-on-one meetings, says Brumer, can encompass anything the student wants to learn, from Talmud to halachah (Jewish law) to the Ten Commandments.
JAC cooperates with the UA Hillel Foundation and often uses its facilities for events. A year after starting the program in Tucson, Brumer expanded JAC to include Arizona State University in Tempe. The JAC website, www.myjac.org, with versions for UA and ASU, includes “Rabbi Eli’s Photo Blog: Random Occurrences in the Life of a Campus Rabbi” (check out the Rice Krispies-treat Torah) and an online store selling JAC merchandise, from sweatshirts to hats to teddy bears.
Following JAC’s success at UA and ASU, Brumer hopes to expand to smaller community colleges, especially in the Phoenix area. “There are more lives to touch,” he says.
Brumer can be reached at rabbijordan@ gmail.com or 520-904-6435 or through the JAC website at www.myjac.org.
Hannah Gomez is a junior at the University of Arizona.