Building towards a brighter future

Toward the end of my gap year in Israel, I began laying the groundwork for my undergraduate career. I was excited to attend Stern College in the fall, as it presented me with numerous opportunities to broaden my horizons and deepen my connection to a Torah lifestyle. But I was concerned about finding a way to develop professional skills – and make a difference in the world – while earning my degree.

After extensive research, it appeared as though the programming I envisioned only existed in my own mind.

One day during the school year, I spotted an e-mail about something called the “BUILD Fellowship” in my inbox. Developed by YU and the UJA Federation of New York, this entrepreneurship fellowship boasted a roster of exceptional speakers (all professionals in their fields) and claimed to challenge students to think about their careers, personal values and the promotion of Jewish ideals. This was exactly the program I had been looking for, and I rushed to apply.

To my great delight, I was granted a fellowship, and I have been enjoying every element of the truly unique programming.

What amazes me most about the BUILD Fellowship is the diverse grouping of men and women in the cohort. We are a collection of individuals from around the world, with different religious backgrounds, interests and professional goals. Still, every presentation contains a subtextual message that is relevant to each and every one of us: identify your passion and use it as a motivator to propel yourself forward. Though I was well aware that human beings are capable of incredible and inspiring things, I had never internalized that message until I joined the BUILD Fellowship.

One of my favorite elements of the program is the consistent emphasis on studying the colorful “tapestry” that is the Jewish people. This includes learning to appreciate our diversity from within as well as being able to imagine how the rest of the world sees the Jewish nation from the outside. In that vein, I was very moved when each of our speakers elaborated on the very real challenges that we will likely encounter as religious Jew in a secular workplace. It was at once jarring and enlightening to think about who I am in those terms, to reevaluate my priorities and consider how I can use my professional status to make a positive impact on my Jewish community and the world at large.

Having reframed my outlook on life, I now proudly accept my responsibility to stand as an ambassador of the Jewish people in all settings – social, professional and otherwise. After I complete my degree in Business and Marketing, I will be searching not only for a career but opportunities that will serve as a platform upon which to achieve my higher calling.

Scott Shay, the Chairman of Signature Bank and the first in BUILD’s line up of amazing speakers, put it best when he said that “people overestimate what they can do in the short term and underestimate what they can do in the long term.” In other words, we are dejected when can’t finish everything on our daily to do lists, but we rarely have the confidence or forethought to focus on becoming the best in our professions or someone whom others consider a role model. The BUILD Fellowship has taught me that I need to recognize the potential in everyone, and my own potential above all.

BUILD is aptly named in that it has shown me that life is all about building on our experiences, both good and bad, and coming out smarter and stronger. If we truly learn from every experience, interaction and decision, we can become better people, more skilled professionals, and the kind of leaders who can effect change.

The more time we spend building, the quicker we will reach the greatest heights of our potentials and make a real difference in the lives of others.

About the Author
Zahava Schwarz is a current student at Stern College for Women and a participant in the BUILD Fellowship, a joint program of Yeshiva University and the UJA Federation of New York.