Should Canadian Orthodox Jews Attend Secular Colleges? The OU Provides Guidance

05 Nov 2009


The Orthodox Union’s Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), which includes York University and University of Toronto, among the 15 schools where JLIC has a presence, will present an evening of exploration and discussion about the challenges and opportunities of Jewish Orthodox living on secular college campuses. Geared toward parents, students in their final two years of high school, and post-Israel college-bound students, the program, “Observant Jewish Life on the Secular College Campus,” will take place on Wednesday, December 2 at Yeshivat Bnei Akiva Or Chaim in Toronto.

The event is a joint program of JLIC and the Orthodox Union’s Department of Community Services. A panel will feature Rabbi Scot Berman, headmaster of Toronto’s Bnei Akiva Schools; Rabbi Aaron Greenberg, JLIC educator at York University and University of Toronto; Rabbi Josh Ross, associate director of JLIC; as well as two York University students, Micha Gasner and David Elmaleh, who have benefited from the JLIC program. Larry Zeifman, president of OU Canada, will moderate the program.

“Spanning 15 campuses and 10 years, JLIC should be viewed as an invaluable resource to parents who are considering a secular campus for their children, or students who are considering attending a secular campus,” said Rabbi Ross. “We take no position on the decision to attend a secular university, but realizing that an increasing number of Orthodox students do so, we are in a unique position to help people make informed decisions. It is my hope that JLIC will not only continue to be a resource to all Jewish students on campus, but become a resource to all communities and families who are investigating the opportunities and challenges that secular universities provide.”

According to Frank Buchweitz, Director of OU’s Department of Community Services and Special Projects, “JLIC is uniquely positioned to help Orthodox students navigate the college environment and fortify their Jewish commitments. At York University and the University of Toronto, JLIC has been especially successful in establishing Jewish learning opportunities.”

Led by Rabbi Aaron and Miriam Greenberg, Toronto’s JLIC couple, the program includes several weekly lectures, daily services, peer-to-peer learning, and numerous events for York and University of Toronto’s thousands of Jewish students. Additionally, the Greenbergs , both Toronto natives and graduates of York University, continue to facilitate the Beit Midrash program at York; engage students through formal and non-formal learning programs; and serve as personal role models for the community at large.

“At the Toronto campuses,” Rabbi Greenberg declared, “ JLIC is unique in that it provides learning opportunities both on and off campus; an opportunity to maintain and build on the high school social community and reach out to other fellow Jews who might have not had such an expansive Jewish education; and maintain a personal relationship with a rabbinic couple.”

York and University of Toronto (which are considered one program) are the only Canadian campuses with JLIC. In the United States it can be found at Brandeis, Brooklyn College, Cornell, Harvard, Johns Hopkins (in Baltimore, MD), New York University, Princeton, Rutgers, UCLA, University of Illinois, University of Maryland, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale.