“It is imperative for young adults to find that extra meaning in their life because this is the time in our lives where being Jewish is a question,” explained Spencer Mandell. “Once we leave school, being Jewish becomes a question of, ‘Am I Jewish? How do I practice my Jewishness? How do I find a spouse? Are they going to be Jewish?’ All these sorts of questions are happening right now in our lives.”
Spencer is currently in Jerusalem, studying to become a rabbi through Hebrew Union College. He was able to subsidize the cost of his year-long trip through a Cincy Journeys’ post-high school travel grant. “When I was 13, I knew I wanted to come to Israel and become a rabbi, but the grant from Cincy Journeys gave me a sense of purpose and a sense of meaning,” he said.
For eligible community members, Cincy Journeys offers up to $6,250 for post-high school travel to Israel. From two-week tours of the country to gap-year programs; from summer internships to studying abroad—the grant opportunities are tailored to the specific interests and needs of the applicant. For Spencer, having the grant money pay for his school provided him with much-needed cash. By not having to spend large portions of his personal savings on his education, he said he didn’t have to worry about where his next meal would come from. “I’ve been able to live a life here in Jerusalem. Thanks to the grant paying for school, I was able to afford books, school supplies, and public transit. Thanks to the Cincy Journeys grant, I'm able to enjoy my time here, instead of worrying about how much I have in my bank account if I’ll be able to afford to go to dinner. It's good to have that peace of mind, and that's really what Cincy Journeys helped to provide me.”
Spencer went on to say that he doesn’t think of the travel grant as a scholarship so much as he sees it as a symbol of his community. “Whatever I do, whether it’s getting dinner or buying flashcards, it makes me think of the great community I have at home. When I look at those new items I can think of Cincinnati—it really is something I can carry with me.”
Spencer said he strongly believes that anyone who has the chance to take advantage of a Cincy Journeys travel grant should do so. “Any chance to go to Israel should be taken seriously by anyone in Cincinnati that has the opportunity and time available. It was such a generous gift and having this experience connects us to our ancestral homeland. Even though it may seem scary to go away on your own, I say go for it because you're going to learn a lot and have an amazing adventure.”
In speaking with other students at Hebrew Union College, Spencer has gained a deeper understanding of what a unique opportunity this is for members of the Cincinnati Jewish community. “There's nothing else out there like this. Nothing compares to the work that is being done in Cincinnati to make sure that a program like Cincy Journeys is available to everyone in the community. I don't know if I would be the person I am if I didn’t grow up in an environment that was conducive to fostering a strong relationship with Israel and with Jewishness. I think that being from Cincinnati has made me into the person that I am today.”