JLIC Educators Energize Orthodox Life at Penn
When Rabbi Mordy Friedman met his wife, Limor, the two were spending the summer as counselors in a religious leadership-training program. The program would apparently set the tone for their future career choices: they are currently the Heshe & Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) educators at the University of Pennsylvania, which houses one of the largest Orthodox communities on a secular campus in North America. The Orthodox community at Penn (nicknamed OCP, for Orthodox Community at Penn), which regularly draws about 300 students for Shabbat dinner and JLIC programs, is bigger than the Reform and Conservative communities on the campus.
Rav Mordy, as students refer to him, a Teaneck, New Jersey native, and Limor, a sabra from Netivot who was living in the States, made aliyah in 2003. The couple, who were serving as the Av and Eim Bayit (house father and mother) at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi, had been considering going on shelichut (service abroad) for some time. In 2005, they were contacted by Rav Mordy’s childhood friend and longtime chavrutah (study partner) Rabbi Yehuda Seif, who was leaving his position as the JLIC rabbi at Penn and thought the school would be a good match for the Friedmans. Rav Mordy and Limor made the journey to the Penn campus to see if it would be a good fit.
“As soon as we saw the campus,” says Rav Mordy, “Limor and I knew that we wanted to be part of the warmth and camaraderie that is Penn’s Orthodox Jewish community.”
The Orthodox Union, in partnership with Hillel, oversees JLIC, a program that sends young “educator” couples to campuses throughout North America to help Orthodox students balance their Jewish commitments with their academic goals. JLIC couples foster Torah study, sponsor Jewish events and help create a Shabbat atmosphere on the largely secular campuses. JLIC is currently on fifteen campuses, including Yale, Cornell and Johns Hopkins University. (Harvard is expected to become a JLIC campus in the fall.)
At Penn, the Friedmans make a concerted effort to get to know the students. They often invite students into their home; they live just two blocks from Penn’s Hillel with their almost five-year-old daughter, Noa, and son, Yedidya, who is a few months old.
“Rav Mordy and Limor took great strides to get to know everyone in the community, and forge a connection with them,” says Amanda Sugarman, a Penn junior who served as co-chair of the OCP last year. “The Friedmans started working on the campus during my freshman year, and immediately welcomed me into their home and made it known that they were here to assist me in my adjustment.”
Aside from making themselves available to students, Rav Mordy and Limor host Shabbat meals and sponsor shiurim and community service projects. “Sunday Night Learning,” or SNL, brings 150 students together for dinner and one-on-one learning.
“It’s a beautiful scene to walk into the beit midrash [study hall] and see the students excited about Torah learning,” says Rav Mordy.
Another JLIC program, “Challah for Hunger,” had students bake challot to raise funds for hunger relief. JLIC also brings scholars-in-residence to the campus for Shabbat and weeknight discussions.
But for the Friedmans, it’s all in a day’s work.
“The hats we wear as JLIC educators are multiple,” says Rav Mordy. “We’re mentors, therapists, friends and teachers, and we are also able to give halachic advice and answers.”
The Friedmans know a little something about leadership. Both are seasoned educators who have long been involved in Jewish communal work. Rav Mordy studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel before he earned his MA and semichah from Yeshiva University. He has taught at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi and at various other institutions in Israel.
Limor, who has an MA from Bar-Ilan University, spent her two years of sheirut le’umi (national service) teaching high school students and leading seminars on Jewish values. Additionally, she served as the advisor for the Bnei Akiva chapter in Los Angeles.
Stressing that they primarily act as facilitators, the Friedmans are quick to give credit to Penn students for their role in organizing programs. “[The students] are the future leaders of the Jewish community, who will one day build and strengthen communities throughout the world,” says Limor. “What better place to get experience than during these formative college years?”
“Being an Orthodox Jew on a secular campus poses a most difficult challenge for many students,” says Rav Mordy. “Our goal is to provide students with meaningful opportunities to enrich their Jewish identity and Jewish knowledge, and to serve as a guide and resource to deepen their Jewish commitment.”
It sounds like that summer at the leadership training camp, as well as Rav Mordy and Limor’s hard work and effort to be mentors and role models for the next generation, is paying off.
Tova Ross is a public relations assistant at the OU.