Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

Faith is like wi-fi… it’s invisible, but it has the power to connect you to what you need.’ – Anonymous

 

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A client of mine told me that despite the generosity of “the West” in extending full scholarships to so many of her fellow Africans to study remotely and gain a college degree, 45 percent of university graduates in Africa are still jobless one year after graduating. Many of the successful 55 percent ascribe their success to mentorship programs, and when she told me that as a professional she was now giving back as part of an organization called the Global Mentorship Initiative, this inspired me to join too. The initiative pairs disadvantaged college students with mentors from many different fields to guide them in a structured way (over 14 weeks) towards college and career success.

I was paired with a student, Ebere, who is living in one of the world’s largest refugee camps. The university she (virtually) attends in the Midwest had sent her a Chromebook, without which her college experience would not have been possible. In my own household (which is blessed to have as many Chromebooks as people in it), I found myself one night coaxing my teenager to switch his off before bedtime, and mentioned that my mentee doesn’t have access to Internet after 9 p.m. because makeshift libraries are the only wi-fi enabled areas available to her and these close at that hour.

This was eye-opening for my teenager, who sometimes questions whether we should be paying full fare on the subway given that the wi-fi access is so spotty. I suggested we simulate her experience at home by setting our router on a time switch to go off at 9 p.m., but was dissuaded by the look of horror on his face.

Regardless of the initial post-college success or otherwise of students like Ebere, there’s no doubt in my mind that the experience of gaining a college degree from an American university will enhance her future prospects. And of course, while it won’t immediately alleviate her poverty, it will certainly help that she won’t carry the student loan debt that plagues so many in our society. I’d like to believe that sharing her classroom with students on the other side of the world will enable her to feel more optimistic about her prospects in life – not just for meaningful and rewarding employment but for her ability at some point in the not too distant future to live in a free society without the threat of religious persecution or abuse. I hope that her presence in class enriches the appreciation of other students regarding their personal freedoms and relative privileges, and also hope that in sharing their experiences they will be mutually enriched.

My experience mentoring Ebere helped me consider the wanderings of our people in a new light. While Adam and Chava were the first couple in the Torah forced out of their home, our parsha opens with the journey of Avraham and Sarah, and its title indicates to us that the Jewish journey – and Jewish journeying – will never end. Hashem continues to command each of us: Lech Lecha or Lechi Lach, i.e. summon the courage to take the next step into the unknown. When others around you are complacent, be the one that challenges assumptions, smashes the family or community idols and blazes your own path. If society doesn’t believe in you, rejects you, or even persecutes you, be the modern day Abraham and Sarah and carve out your own destiny, despite the nay-sayers and non-believers. Stand up for your beliefs however unpopular and you may even go on to empower and inspire others to do the same, just like our forebears.

Avraham earned the appellation Ha’Ivri – the one who went against the flow, the contrarian. Know a contrarian like Avraham? Like Ebere? Let’s do our best to support them however we can. And next time WhatsApp goes down, or you are having wi-fi problems, remember Ebere and take a little comfort in the fact that your college experience, social life and career do not have to be calendared around library opening hours.

This column is lovingly dedicated to a former intern: Michal and her chosson Ephraim, who epitomize intellectual curiosity and openness to others. As you blaze your new path, may your home together be a refuge, a place of chesed to each other, and a beacon on the road less traveled.

P.S. Share your current experience in an “out of town college” or submit a LinkedIn profile for a biblical character for a chance to be featured in this column and win a $25 gift card.

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Rabbi Daniel Coleman, MBA, is sought after for his creative and strategic approach to career preparedness, transitions, and success. In addition to presenting to high school groups on career/financial preparedness, Daniel coaches college-bound students on navigating the admission process and crafting an excellent application. He is a popular scholar in residence in communities across America and beyond. Connect with him at coleman4coaching@gmail.com or on LinkedIn.