JLIC at UCLA Spawns A New Campus – Santa Monica College

12 Mar 2015
Torah Educators Orit and Nick Faguet at the
JLIC Santa Monica College inaugural barbeque.

For the past 13 years, the Orthodox Union’s Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) program has flourished at UCLA, led for the past decade by Torah Educators Rabbi Aryeh and Sharona Kaplan, who provide an atmosphere of Torah study and empowerment of Orthodox students on that secular campus. Similar programs are found on 20 other four-year undergraduate campuses across the United States and Canada.

Given how extremely competitive the admissions process is at UCLA, some students will study for two years at a high-level community college before becoming realistic candidates for admission there.  One of those community colleges is Santa Monica College (SMC), just down the road from UCLA and the number one transfer school to the Bruin campus; many of these students are Sephardic Jews from families that emigrated from Iran. In addition, SMC is home to a large number of graduates of NCSY, the OU’s international youth program.

It is no surprise then that JLIC, which is operated in partnership with Hillel, has chosen SMC to be the first two-year school to feature the JLIC program. The Torah Educators are Los Angeles natives Nicholas “Nick” Faguet and Orit Cohen Faguet, both graduates of UCLA, with Nick receiving his diploma in December, 2010 and Orit six months later. Orit came to UCLA from – SMC!  The JLIC program at SMC is held on a part-time basis with the Kaplans mentoring the Faguets.

“The new Orthodox Union JLIC program at Santa Monica College builds on our already successful program at UCLA,” explains Rabbi Ilan Haber, director of JLIC.  “Many students from SMC transfer to UCLA, which gives us an opportunity to connect with them at the beginning of their college experience.  The addition of the part-time program at SMC makes our service to the Los Angeles Jewish community more robust. We anticipate a great program, and are very excited to see Nick and Orit join the OU-JLIC team.”

The Kaplans of UCLA add, “We’re thrilled that Nick and Orit Faguet are the inaugural JLIC Educators at SMC.  Their personal experiences as integral student leaders within JLIC during their college years at UCLA, their innate warmth and charisma, and the passion they bring to the program position them for incredible success.  In addition, placing a couple on the campus that absorbs so many NCSY alumni, will no doubt dramatically leverage existing successes of the OU and enrich the future of the Los Angeles community.”

Sharona Kaplan continued: “SMC Hillel is officially under the umbrella of Hillel at UCLA where the both the Executive Director, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, and the incoming Executive Director, Rabbi Aaron Lerner, have wholeheartedly supported JLIC’s expansion in the region. Additionally, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is a partner in this initiative, providing initial funding to launch the program. Local synagogue rabbis have also been very supportive.”

Nick Faguet, far right, engages students in a Torah discussion.

Since JLIC at Santa Monica is a part-time program, it is no surprise that both Nick and Orit have other interests. Nick, a non-practicing attorney, graduated in May from the UCLA School of Law; Orit has been Los Angeles Director Yachad, the OU’s agency for people with special needs, since 2011. She started working with Yachad her senior year at UCLA, but has been involved with the special needs community since she was 15.

Both played leadership roles in JLIC while at UCLA, with Nick being a student vice president who spearheaded a fund-raising drive which produced $80,000 in three months for JLIC on campus; while Orit was Sisterhood President, planning women’s Rosh Chodesh events and organizing women’s learning groups.

As required by the job, both bring strong backgrounds in Judaism to their positions. Nick, whose academic background includes a stint at the Hebrew University in Israel, demonstrates deep knowledge of Jewish texts.  In polyglot Los Angeles, he stands out, speaking English, Hebrew and Spanish fluently as well as with proficiency in Farsi, Syriac and Italian.

Orit has taught at the Maimonides Academy and Ohr Eliyahu Academy in Los Angeles, and was a tutor in the Jewish Awareness Movement in Los Angeles, a kiruv (Jewish outreach) organization for unaffiliated Jewish college students.  Prior to SMC, she was educated at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills and YULA in Los Angeles, then spent two years in Israel at Baer Miriam Seminary. Both were editors of Ha’Am, UCLA’s Jewish newsmagazine, with Nick serving as Managing Editor and Orit as Editor-in-Chief.

In their letter of application to JLIC, Nick and Orit wrote the following:

“Our goal in working for JLIC is two-fold. We wish to ensure the continuity of Jewish involvement and learning from the end of high school through university and into young adulthood; and we wish to strengthen the next generation of the burgeoning Sephardic community in Los Angeles.

“Ensuring continuity means reaching out to commuter campuses and community colleges to increase Jewish involvement and Torah learning, and making the richness of UCLA’s thriving Orthodox community more readily available to students at all schools in Los Angeles. This is especially imperative at Santa Monica College, where around 80 percent of Jewish students, most of them Persian, matriculate into UCLA. Continuity of involvement in Jewish life and Torah learning is critical in the years spent at community college, ensuring greater involvement upon transferring to universities with established Jewish communities and infrastructure, such as UCLA.

Sweet in Santa Monica: Students create hamentaschen for Purim.

“However, also important is strengthening the thriving Orthodox community created at UCLA by JLIC, reaching out to commuter students and those unaware of JLIC’s presence, who simply fall between the cracks. Much of this strength can come from increasing JLIC’s existing presence at UCLA as a ‘go-to’ destination for all college-age Jews throughout the city and making sure students at all colleges in the city, not just UCLA, feel comfortable involving themselves in UCLA’s community. Through outreach and word-of-mouth advertising, we could ensure that more non-UCLA students know that they can come to the established JLIC at UCLA, and enjoy the full gamut of Jewish life it has to offer.”

JLIC Santa Monica kicked off the winter semester with a lively Purim chagigah; hamentaschen baking; “Sushi And Shiur” and “Brunch And Learn” Torah lectures with local educators; and “Open Beit Midrash”(Torah study hall) nights.

Not surprisingly, the Kaplans of UCLA are playing a major role in the development of JLIC at SMC. “The Kaplans were the driving force for the program from day one,” Nick says. “They actively recruited us to JLIC, and since we have started, we meet weekly with the Kaplans to stay updated, and they have assisted us in grant applications, helped us develop our teaching styles, and helped us make initial contact with several students. However, their management style is very laid-back, and we are given freedom to develop our program in any way that we feel best serves our demographic.”