By Leo Traub
After a few semesters of seeing low numbers of applicants, the Jewish studies department is encouraging students interested in studying abroad in Israel or on qualifying academic programs to apply for scholarship funds.
Every year, the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies offers academic scholarships to students who are planning to spend a break, semester or year studying abroad. The university sets aside money in the Gudelsky Fund specifically for students studying in Israel, but the department also awards scholarships to students enrolled in Jewish or Israel studies-related programs not in Israel.
But over the past two years, the Jewish studies department has seen a drop in the number of students applying for scholarships, said Dr. Charles Manekin, director of the Meyerhoff Center, and the faculty is encouraging students to fill out applications, found on the department’s website.
One possible reason for the drop, Manekin said, is that fewer students may be interested in studying in Israel because they have already visited the country through Taglit-Birthright trips or gap years before college.
“Some people say that because of the economy, people are really concerned with finishing their college programs,” Manekin said, “so studying abroad in Israel is not as attractive maybe now as it used to be.”
Typically, the department receives around five to 10 applications a semester, Manekin said, and the applicant approval rate has been exceptionally high in the past.
According to the Jewish studies department’s website, the scholarship committee meets twice a year, in April and October. The committee, which is made up of Jewish and Israel studies faculty, will consider applications sent in any time of the year, but students who apply on deadline will have a better chance of receiving money, Manekin said.
The amount of money the department awards in any given scholarship can range from $200 to $2,500, depending on variables such as the program’s needs, qualifications and length, Manekin said.
The Meyerhoff Center is also planning to offer limited financial assistance to Jewish studies majors, Manekin said, and the department will make an official announcement regarding these tuition scholarships soon.
In awarding scholarships, the department prioritizes students studying abroad in accredited academic programs, Manekin said. The department prefers to award money to students who are getting credit from a university, he said.
Some students have used the Meyerhoff Center scholarship funds toward university-run summer trips to Jewish communities in Italy and South America, for which they received college credits.
One scholarship recipient, junior Hannah Shapiro, a government and politics and Jewish studies double major, is taking five courses this semester at Tel Aviv University. Most of her courses have Jewish studies themes and are helping toward her degrees, she wrote in an email.
“I have always wanted to study abroad in Israel,” she wrote. “Through my Jewish studies major I have learned a bit of Hebrew and wanted to keep practicing. Tel Aviv is also a really fun major city to live in, especially for college-age students.”
Many students use the scholarship to get credits from Israeli universities for their minor, Israel studies coordinator Samantha Levine said.
“The students who study abroad in Israel can take the classes from Israel and apply them to the Israel studies minor here,” she said. “So they’re basically getting a scholarship to go to Israel and work on the minor.”
The Meyerhoff Center also considers awarding scholarships to students enrolling in other educational programs, such as nonprofit social work or nongovernmental organizations, that do not offer college credit, Manekin said. However, the department’s scholarship committee would have to judge those applicants on a case-by-case basis, he said.
“In principle, we don’t rule this out, but we really prefer academic programs [that give credit],” he said.
The department also prioritizes students who are Jewish studies majors or minors and Israel studies minors, Manekin said, but any student, undergraduate or graduate, can still qualify for scholarship funds.
Senior elementary education major Rosa Quintanilla received scholarship funding to spend two weeks in Israel on a Maryland Study Abroad program over this past winter break. Her program visited the country’s Ethiopian Jewish immigrant population and learned about the history of their migration to Israel, she wrote in an email.
“Going to Israel has always been my dream,” she wrote. “I am Christian and being able to set foot on the Holy Land was an amazing privilege I wanted to say I have had.”