A Home Away from Home
Pictured: Yehuda Bernstein and Mijal Bitton at the final Wexner Graduate Fellowship Institute Class 24 in Sanibel, Florida
Wrapping up our last class workshop as participants in the Wexner Graduate Fellowship on Wednesday morning, I couldn’t help feeling as blue as the clear waters of the Sanibel coast. Each of my classmates had accomplished great things over the past four years. All had contributed in one way or another to the Wexner community, whether by delivering inspiring divrei torah, teaching enriching electives, planning and running programming or simply by offering their insightful perspectives at leadership training seminars and Summer Institute learning sessions. And each was poised to enter the professional world, if they had not done so already, to effect great change in an American Jewish community. This last workshop was a moment of triumph, a cause for celebration, and I was sad to see it all end.
Why the grief? Surely I would miss the vacations to Florida and Vermont generously provided by the Fellowship, breaks virtually built into my annual calendar in which I could recharge in a setting far more scenic than the New York metro area. But there was of course more to it than that. What I, and I imagine my classmates too, would really miss was the community of like-minded individuals, those fleeting week-long retreats where we could all engage with others who shared our interests and values. Even as our class struggled with interpersonal disputes, became divided over clashes between different religious and political worldviews, and sometimes slid into heated disagreements over how we should be spending our time in the Fellowship, we all came to see the Fellowship as an intellectual home. Where else could we shoot the breeze with other aspiring Jewish professionals on topics as varied as text and authority or the boundary lines crisscrossing the Jewish universe? And where else could we use terms such as “adaptive challenges,” “getting up on the balcony,” and “exhibiting leadership presence” while assuming that our interlocutors could appreciate all their nuances?
The Wednesday morning workshop came to a close. We offered our blessings, said our goodbyes, and the “Banyas” seminar room began to empty. We would be leaving the world of the Fellowship for the last time, venturing permanently beyond the confines of that warm and stimulating community we had grown to cherish and to partake in with deep gratitude. I knew that I would be able to find micro moments of Wexner-like community in my future — the Wexnet listserv, alumni institutes, and the 30th Anniversary this April in Columbus came to mind — but that this special experience could never be recreated or replaced. It could only live on in the relationships forged and the memories made at all those prior institutes, and it was those that I would cherish like a home away from home.
Yehuda Bernstein, a current Graduate Fellow in Class 24, has a BA and also an MA in Modern Jewish History at the Bernard Revel Graduate School, Yeshiva University’s masters program for Judaic studies. He has completed coursework and has commenced research towards a dissertation at NYU in History and Judaic Studies on the topic of the burgeoning of Zionism in America during World War I (a.b.d 2/2/2015). His professional activities have included working as a part-time teacher at Ramaz’s high school, where he taught tenth grade history and Jewish history; overseeing all US operations for the online-based adult education program, Project Zug; and serving as a recitations instructor at NYU (he is currently serving as such in the lecture course, Modern Israel).Yehuda can be reached at email@example.com.