Conquering the world, one internship at a time

Lewis intern web image
: The result of messy tye-dyeing at Fiedler Hillel.

"My job this summer is to help you take over the world," said Lisette Zaid, Program Director of the Harriet and Maurice Lewis Summer Intern Program, to 32 unassuming college students. The 20-somethings were gathered for the program's orientation at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation building in the Loop, fervently preparing for the summer that lay ahead. From mid-June to early August, the interns met with Jewish communal leaders, sharpened up on professional development, and gained valuable work experience, leaving them fully equipped to make their mark in the world.

2012 marks the 25th anniversary of JUF's nationally recognized program becoming the Harriet and Maurice Lewis Summer Intern Program, funded through JUF's Continuum project. The eight week, paid, work/study internship in Chicago's Jewish community is designed for undergraduates (ages 18-22) who are either residents of or attending school in Illinois. American interns, selected from a competitive pool of 81 applicants this year, were joined by two students from Kiryat Gat, Israel and two from Kiev, Ukraine through JUF's Partnership Together and Kiev Kehillah programs, respectively. Since its inception, the program has realized the Lewis family's mission of helping students decide on careers, develop leadership skills, and enhance their Jewish identity and commitment to Jewish community.

A three-day orientation kicked off the summer. After an introduction to the structure and goals of the program, the group visited Pushing the Envelope Farm, a nonprofit, organic farm based in Geneva that uses Jewish values to maintain the land. The interns also spent time at several Federation-affiliated agencies including the Lieberman Center for Health and Rehabilitation and The ARK, seeing how JUF lends a hand to the Chicago Jewish community. They were off to work the following Monday morning.

Students were placed in agencies and departments of the Federation in areas such as social work, Jewish communal service, development, and communications. In addition to contributing their skills and knowledge in the workplace, they attended weekly seminars featuring the foremost Jewish professionals in Chicago. The Tuesday conventions focused on Jewish leadership, religious identity, Israel, brushing up resumes, networking, emerging adulthood, and other topics lending to professional and personal growth. The interns also gained a better understanding of JUF's role in the Chicago and around the world.

A highlight of the summer for many was mid-July's Shabbaton retreat at Northwestern University's Fiedler Hillel. The weekend in Evanston, planned entirely by the interns, proved to be an enriching and memorable bonding experience. Activities included Friday night Shabbat services, Jewishly-themed discussions, yoga, and outdoor activities, with a havdalah ceremony on the lakefront concluding the retreat on a high note.

As a final assignment, interns submitted professional portfolios with updated resumes, new business references, and reflections on their time at JUF. They will continue to build their portfolios as they advance in their careers.

Although the eight weeks flew by, they had a tremendous impact on the program's participants.

Ben Ginsberg, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who worked for the Jewish Community Relations Council and Government Affairs, gained the confidence he needed going forward. "After working in the non-profit sector at JUF and being on the front line with issues such as anti-Semitism and interfaith relations, I'm certain in my decision to go to law school," he said.

"One of our seminars that focused on Israel affected me in a way I didn't expect," said Rebeccah Stromberg, student at University of Chicago and grant writing intern for the JUF Planning and Allocations department. "I realized then that I want to connect young people to Israel, just as I felt a connection to the country on that day."

For Milena Tochylovska, an intern from Kiev, the summer in Chicago was life-changing. "In Ukraine, I wasn't involved much with Judaism, but the Lewis Summer Intern Program strengthened my Jewish identity. I now know that I want Judaism to be a central part of my life."

Don't be surprised if these 32 young professionals become the next Jewish leaders in years to come.

The Harriet & Maurice Lewis Summer Intern Program is a program of The Hillels of Illinois, department of Campus Affairs and Student Engagement at Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/Jewish United Fund. For more information, visit or contact Lisette Zaid at or (312) 673-2353. New early application period begins September 14, 2012.

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