Summer Helped Me As a New Jew
Rivka Cohen was born to a Jewish father and gentile mother. Her journey to Yiddishkeit was helped by a summer program.
My name is Rivka Cohen. I grew up in southwest Florida in a community comprised of both very devoted Christians, and very staunch atheists.
I was born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. Although I always thought that having a Jewish father meant that I was Jewish, I also thought that there was nothing more to Judaism than matzo ball soup (maybe) once a year.
My family was first introduced to Chabad when I was a teenager. Our first exposure to authentic Yiddishkeit was we sat down with a yeshiva bochur to learn Tanya. I think I can speak for all members of my family when I say that we felt like we were hearing truth for the first time.
Over the next 3 years, we slowly learned and took on one mitzva at a time. The problem was that my mother and I still didn’t quite grasp what it meant that we were not really Jewish.
After we had been slowly learning about Shabbos and kashrus for about two years, we were in touch with the Bais Din to begin the official process towards orthodox conversion.
My mother completed hers in Adar of 5776 (2016), and my parents had a beautiful wedding on the same day. Two months after my mother immersed in the mikveh and emerged as a Jew, I was blessed to do the same.
I know of nothing in this world more beautiful, deeper or more rich than our heritage as the Jewish people. Striving to live according to the Torah transformed my life, in ways that have been sweeter and more profound than I could have ever dreamed.
Even so, something essential was missing. I really needed to spend some time in a supportive Jewish environment and immerse myself in Torah learning.
I had the privilege to come to Jewish Summer Fellowship in the summer of 5777 (2017).
We were a group of 12 girls from very diverse backgrounds, and on various different levels in Torah knowledge and mitzva observance. Some girls were learning alef bais and lighting Shabbos candles for the first time. Others were reading and translating Chumash. Some were fully frum and had even been to seminary. Regardless of our backgrounds, we bonded with each other in those 6 weeks, supported each other in our learning and personal growth, and became dear friends.
The staff and teachers at Jewish Summer Fellowship are some of the most caring, dedicated and knowledgeable people I have been privileged to learn under. Day in and day out they invest themselves with the sincere intention to give over to each student what he or she needs. A year later, I am still in touch with many of them regularly!
I left at the end of the summer with a knowledge base, new learning skills and a wave of inspiration that actually laid the foundation for the entire year that followed. And it has been a truly wonderful year! I am still benefitting from the things I learned, the ways I grew and the relationships I fostered at JSF!
If you have the opportunity, go and embrace the experience with an open mind and heart.
My experience at Jewish Summer Fellowship jumpstarted my Torah education faster than I could have imagined and I made some of the closest friends I have to this day!
The Jewish Summer Fellowship, formerly Ivy League Torah Study Program, will be held in the Catskills, with simultaneous separate programs for men and women. The program is open to all Jewish college students wanting to explore what Judaism is all about in an immersive environment. The dates this summer are from June 11th through July 24th. For more, visit myjsf.org