Although it hasn’t even been three years since Nomi Mitchell graduated from Northeastern, she’s already put her combined major in Jewish Studies and Religion to work in a big way. Mitchell, who was Northeastern’s first combined major in those fields, is Boston University Hillel’s Birthright Campus Coordinator, recruiting for and staffing eight Birthright trips. In her year and a half at BU Hillel, she has also organized a variety of other programs, including a Combined Jewish Philanthropies Alternative Spring Break trip to Haifa and a trip organized by the David Project that aims to bring to Israel two non-Jewish students for every Jewish participant. The latter trip is designed to build a broader campus community of students who have experienced Israel.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I hadn’t had both the Jewish Studies experience and my other Religion courses,” Mitchell remarks. “I definitely feel like I’m practicing what I learned at school.”
Mitchell also works to channel the excitement generated by these trips to Israel in productive directions upon students’ return. With her help and guidance, alumni of her programs become involved in a wide variety of academic, religious, political, social, and philanthropic activities, ranging from participation in Hillel events to Israel advocacy work to enrollment in Judaic Studies classes to work for Challah for Hunger.
In her work, Mitchell draws upon her many years of Jewish education, her time in the Israeli Defense Forces, and her academic and experiential education at Northeastern.
She attended Jewish day schools from elementary through high school, first the Alperin Schechter Day School in Providence, RI, and later the Maimonides School in Brookline, MA. While spending what was intended to be a gap year in Israel on Young Judea Year Course, Mitchell decided she wanted to share the experiences of Israelis her age by joining the army. Year Course ended in the spring; in August, Mitchell made aliyah.
Mitchell served two years in a combat search and rescue unit, part of Israel’s Home Front Command. During the Gaza War of 2008-2009, her unit was among the first to respond to rocket hits along the periphery of the Gaza Strip, going into kibbutzim and homes to build bomb shelters and visiting schools to work with children.
“This was my introduction to Israel’s conflict,” she recalls. Although it was difficult to serve in a foreign military with a language and a culture that was new to her, her overall army experience was positive. “I can’t imagine who I would be today if I had gone directly to college and hadn’t had this experience in the army,” she reflects.
After finishing her army service, Mitchell returned to the United States and began college at the University of Hartford. Although she loved her Jewish Studies classes, she found herself craving more of a Jewish community. After two years of army service, she also found that her classmates seemed young. Visiting her younger brother at Northeastern, she fell in love with the campus and the community. Because of co-op, many students at Northeastern were slightly older, and she appreciated the urban environment and Jewish resources of Boston. She transferred to Northeastern in 2011.
At Northeastern, Mitchell soon declared the new Combined Major in Jewish Studies and Religion. From the beginning, she enjoyed getting an academic perspective on Judaism and the Jewish experience that differed substantially from the religious point of view of her high school classes. She found the two Dialogue of Civilizations programs in which she participated – in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Central Europe with Prof. Harlow Robinson and in Poland with Prof. Jeffrey Burds – to be powerful parts of her education as well. She was able to view Auschwitz, Terezin, and many other sites through a Jewish lens. She also credits her studies in comparative religion with benefitting her current work taking non-Jewish students to Israel and building bridges with other religious communities on campus.
In her senior year, Mitchell took a part-time job at Northeastern’s Hillel. Getting a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to make such an organization function and to recruit and staff Birthright trips, she was intrigued. Following graduation, she took a job as Engagement Associate at Cornell University Hillel and ended up working mostly on Birthright recruitment and staffing. When she heard about a position at Boston University focused on Birthright, she jumped at the chance to return to Boston and has been extremely fulfilled by her work.
“I’m very happy working with the BU students,” Mitchell reflects. “I do want to stay in the Jewish non-profit world. It’s very rewarding, much more rewarding than the money I could get in a corporate job.”
Read the rest of the Fall 2015 Haverim Newsletter here.