By Jacqueline Chase
Many students take a gap year before college to study Judaism in Israel. When they begin their first semester, they realize that finding time to continue Torah study can be difficult. London Kollel is working to change that.
London Kollel was founded in memory of Rabbi Yitchak London, who worked with college students to continue their Jewish studies. When he died, his wife created the program to continue his efforts and to create a community for students to study Torah. Along with the community, the program offers a semesterly stipend for students. Since its formation, the program has spread to the this university along with other campuses including Cornell University and New York University.
Sophomores Rachel Sentchuk, a dietetics major, and Liana Chesir, a studio art and marketing major, are two students who found the community helpful. They joined the program in spring 2018 and are studying Jewish Law as a Journey. Both spent time learning in seminary, but Sentchuk said finding the time to continue learning was difficult before joining London Kollel.
“[London Kollel] was a good way to have a set time and a responsibility to not only learning but also to a greater community and group of people who are all learning together,” Sentchuk said.
At this university, London Kollel members are able to study any aspect of Torah individually or with a partner. At the beginning of the semester they commit to learn for four, six or 10 hours per week.
Freshman kinesiology major Maya Greenbaum said London Kollel helped bring the idea of studying into a reality. She also said she enjoyed the opportunity to study with other people after having studied with freshman mathematics major Ayala Stone in seminary, who is also in London Kollel.
Junior architecture major Leeron Carmi also said the community of London Kollel drew her to the program, though she said the commitment seemed daunting at first.
“I always wanted to do it, but the commitment scared me a little bit because the minimum hours of commitment is four,” Carmi said. “This semester I decided that I wanted to take that on. It’s just a really great way to learn and it’s nice to come in here every Sunday and see the same people, the same faces.”
Carmi is studying with junior psychology major Talya Gordon, who said she found college to be a big change for her Jewish studies. After attending Jewish school and seminary, Gordon said the transition to studying on her own in college was difficult, but the community and structure of London Kollel has been an incentive to help her overcome the challenge.
Rabbi Elie Schwartz has run the program alongside his wife Miriam since fall 2017. The two are part of the Orthodox Union-Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, which works to help students continue their Jewish education during their college years. After their first semester, they established three goals: to have students learn in a Hillel community, to have the group get together once a week, and to provide students with a stipend for a reflection on their involvement after each semester.
Students studied the same topic, the Talmudic tractate of Sukkot, for the first semester with Rabbi Schwartz, but after establishing goals for London Kollel, he decided to allow students to study any topic that interested them.
“It really opened up the Kollel because now students could learn anything that sort of speaks to them,” said Rabbi Schwartz. “That’s the goal to feed that engagement with Torah study and community building.”
The 47 students in London Kollel meet Sundays at 7 p.m. in the Hillel game room. At the end of each semester, they write a report on their studies and receive a stipend from the fund created by Rabbi London’s family, according to Schwartz. The report is intended to show how the program has helped members to learn more about Torah.
“I think it’s especially important to designate time for intrinsic learning,” said freshman economics and psychology major Jacob Glassman. “Especially at a time where we could be focusing on school on Sunday night or before Monday class. It’s important to learn something that is inherently valuable to me.”