A group photo taken at Northwestern Hillel. All participants are smiling at the camera, the background filled with soft furniture and course packets.

One of the great things about Northwestern is the sheer number of courses available to you from the get-go. From a seminar about queer representation in the media to fluid mechanics, you never know what you’ll find in the annals of our course catalog. For me, however, the most valuable learning experience I’ve had so far was beyond something I could register for on Caesar (our class registration website); it was a learning opportunity I’ll cherish for years to come.

If you’ve ever felt the need to get involved in Jewish life on campus, Northwestern Hillel is a great place to be. It was through Hillel that I was able to experience my first intercontinental flight and celebrate Shabbat on the weeks I’m not wrapped up in productions. When it came time to schedule my winter quarter, one of the amazing staff members reached out and asked if I was interested in something called JLF: the Jewish Learning Fellowship. It was a weekly seminar that was oriented towards talking about “life’s biggest questions.” While I wasn’t sure about what that meant just yet, the sound of a free meal with some of the best people I know on campus was something I couldn’t pass up on.

An hour and a half doesn’t sound like a life-changing amount of time, but it did make all the difference for me during winter quarter. At a time where the weather was somewhat dismal and my classes became somewhat difficult, I knew that I had a chunk of time in my week dedicated to seeing a good group of people and forgetting the rest of the week’s struggles for a moment. Every week, we would tackle a wildly different topic. We started off with discussions on what it means to learn and how to approach the world from the perspective of a learner. We dove headfirst into texts that varied between old-world Jewish scholars to today’s professors and quickly moved to larger questions of heritage, how to tell our story, and how we handle disagreement.

The subject of each week would run the gamut, but the one thing that stayed constant was the people. The twelve of us – ten students and two facilitators – spent the time not only diving into the topic at hand but learning about each other. We shared stories from our past and our present, from preschool to last week. These were ten people I really didn’t stand a chance of seeing throughout my day to day life but could count on being there week after week. It was made all the better that this wasn’t for credit; there were no grades, tests, or evaluations. JLF went back to the root of why we all came to college: to learn.

I could wax poetic for hours about the wonderful things that JLF did for me this Winter, but what’s most important is what we took away from the experience. Jewish or non-Jewish, there is tremendous value in creating spaces at Northwestern where you can learn and talk openly with people you don’t see every day. Whether it’s the dialogues of Wildcat Welcome or the structured curriculum of something like Sustained Dialogue, finding a way to learn outside of the classroom is so invaluable to make your Northwestern experience a positive one.

This blog post was originally written while I was employed by the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University. As such, my voice and tone reflect Northwestern’s desired impact, not my own.