The Founders' Fellowship - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Now Accepting Founders' Fellowship Applications

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Collaborative Leadership to Strengthen Progressive Jewish Life on Campus

HUC-JIR’s Founders’ Fellowship is a leadership incubator for college students. The Fellowship empowers students to create new Jewish ideas and visions and to implement them on their campuses. The Fellowship consists of a retreat at HUC-JIR’s New York campus, followed by guided mentorship and support, as well as a project stipend. If you care about Jewish life on your campus, love the thrill of implementing new ideas or want to explore Jewish entrepreneurship, this fellowship is a meaningful opportunity.   

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of Hebrew Union College in 1875, understood that Jewish survival on this continent would depend on Jewish leaders who could effectively address the challenges of religious freedom, assimilation, and acculturation.  Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who established the Jewish Institute of Religion in 1922, fostered generations of Jewish leaders who would inspire their communities to strive for social justice, human rights, and Jewish national expression in the State of Israel. 

Today, the Jewish community is changing and requires greater innovation than ever before. The HUC-JIR Founders’ Fellowship calls upon you, as leaders on your campus communities, to share your visions for change, engage your peers, and carry the dreams of our two Rabbis Wise in your hearts by nurturing the vital bonds that link the Jewish people. As the Talmud says, “all the people of Israel are responsible for one another.”

Just as our founders were unwilling to sit idly by and accept the status quo, so too are we looking to act towards renewal.  Are you ready to shift paradigms and reimagine progressive Jewish life on campus?

Questions? Contact the Founders’ Fellowship team at


Explore the Fellowship:

Fellowship Experience
Fellowship Terms
How to Apply
Selection Criteria and Process
Contact Us


Fellowship Experience

What is The Founders’ Fellowship, anyway?  Rabbis Isaac Mayer Wise and Stephen S. Wise are the co-founders of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.  Both were dedicated to making a difference in their respective communities to positively inspire, revitalize, and unite the Jewish world at large.  We take our co-founders’ vision and perseverance as the inspiration for this fellowship; we are seeking to be bold, take action, and shift paradigms to re-imagine and strengthen progressive Jewish campus life.

In light of this concept, the New York campus of HUC-JIR will convene an intensive three-day weekend retreat during which college students are invited to share and workshop their existing or prospective initiatives to elevate progressive Jewish life on college campuses.  Kicking off a year-long fellowship, the weekend retreat allows students a chance to outline strategies to be implemented the following year with coordinated support from the Fellowship and their peers, as well as stipends to catalyze their respective visions.  Through an open application process, exceptional students, drawn from colleges in North America, will be selected to participate in this Fellowship weekend at HUC-JIR on November 15-18, 2018 in New York.  Expenses relating to the training, travel, and room and board are provided as part of the fellowship.


Essential Operating Elements of the Fellowship:

I. Collaboration:

The weekend connects student leaders with other leaders, as well as helping students workshop and refine their ideas and plans for implementation. The weekend is a learning laboratory of creative thinking as well as a safe place for students to delve into their hopes and desires for their Jewish communities.  As part of their application, students will outline an initiative they would like to pilot or strengthen the following year. They will leave the weekend with greater clarity on their own thinking, identify key next steps, and potentially access funds and other resources that will support them throughout the 2018-2019 school year.

II. Potential Themes for Initiatives - Justice, Arts, Spirituality, Technology, and Jewish Engagement:

HUC-JIR defines Judaism and Jewish practice broadly.  For individuals rooted in their Jewishness, we recognize that Jewish identity and practice take on many forms and we anticipate our applicants will be drawn from a cross section of campus life seeking to address issues of justice, arts, spirituality, technology, and Jewish engagement. 

III. What else:

  • Honing leadership skills
  • Taste of Jewish engagement through text study
  • Participate in communal prayer experience


Fellowship Terms

The fellowship will last for 7 months with the following programming: 

  • October 2018: Initial mentoring meeting and confirm travel logistics
  • November 15-18, 2018: Three-day Fellowship Weekend in New York City
  • December 2018 to May 2018: Bi-monthly check-ins and webinars with skill-building workshops, as well as monthly progress reports.
  • May 2018: Reflections and end of Fellowship for Cohort 4



Students must be starting their freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior year of college for the entire academic year 2018-2019.  Students planning to study abroad during 2018-2019 year are not eligible for this fellowship.


How to Apply

Applications are now available. Please fill out the form on this page to receive the application via email.



All application materials must be received by September 21, 2018 at 11:59pm EST. Students will be notified of acceptance into the fellowship by October 5, 2018.


Selection Criteria and Process

We are seeking individuals who:

  • Have a track record of taking risks and failing and/or succeeding;
  • Love to brainstorm and think of new ideas or possibilities; and
  • Are animated and informed by their Jewish identity.

Letters of Recommendation:

Your application must include two professional Letters of Recommendation: One should come from a professional on your campus (e.g. a professor or Hillel professional) who will serve as your on-campus "sponsor," providing guidance and advice as needed throughout your project. One of your two letters must also be a Jewish communal professional (e.g. Rabbi, Cantor, or Educator). These are not traditional letters, but rather, will serve as an opportunity for us to gain various perspectives and a sense of who you are. The form to share with your references in available here

We seek applicants proposing:

1. “Jewish” initiatives - think Progressive Shabbat practice, creative text study, contemplative prayer, etc.

2.  Initiatives that are more focused on justice, spirituality, arts, and technology initiatives – think organizing workers, Jewish yoga and or meditation, art installations for Sukkot or feminist imagery in the Bible, creating new apps or other online platforms.

The Selection Committee is comprised of HUC-JIR students and staff.  The online application and proposal submission will be reviewed by the Selection Committee and applicants will be informed by October 5, 2018.



These profiles serve as examples of the landscape of successful Founders’ Fellows who have made impacts on their campuses.

Alona (Brandeis) Alona created an interdenominational chavruta program. She matched students raised in Progressive and Orthodox communities with each other to study as chavruta partners. The student chavruta pairs met regularly and got to know each other, as well as different Jewish approaches to text study and Jewish tradition. Alona also organized group meetings and Shabbat lunches for the chavruta pairs to come together, share what they were learning, and get to know a larger group of students.

Joe (Yale) Joe was interested in bringing more joy and spirituality into Hillel and at first wasn’t sure how to do it. Joe is very musical – he plays trombone and is in his school’s Jewish acapella group. Joe also loves Jewish music and niggunim, wordless melodies. Joe created a weekly niggun singing group, were students could gather on a weekday evening to bring their voices together in singing niggunim (wordless, so non-Hebrew speakers could easily participate). The group is gaining traction and more and more students are participating and feeling like it is a meaningful break in their week.

Matt (University of Vermont) Matt founded Green Mountain Manna, a Jewish outdoors group. Matt organized Shabbat hikes, holiday observances, and overnights in the Vermont outdoors, as a way to bring nature into his Jewish observance. By the end of the year, the group was established enough that Matt was focusing on building leadership for the future.

Ally (University of Texas) Ally used UT’s University Interfaith Council, to bring additional religious students together and to focus on shared programming. She created an interfaith day of services, where students packed bags for a nearby refugee shelter and engaged in conversation, study and shared meals together. She built relationships with students of other faith backgrounds so that she wasn’t the only person organizing and recruiting for the event.



How much money is the stipend?Funding will be allocated on a per-proposal basis; considerations will include amount needed for successful program and how much each leader is able to fundraise independently. Funding is up to $500 per leader.

What are the other applicants going to be like? Scroll up to read portraits of possible applicants. We expect a wide spectrum of people from different backgrounds and levels of involvement in the Jewish world. We’re hoping to find a diverse cohort of students who can inspire each other and offer their unique perspectives.

How much will my participation in this fellowship cost? All expenses paid! HUC-JIR will cover travel costs to New York City, subway transportation within New York City, food, and lodging. All other expenses outside of the fellowship are yours. 

Do I really have to commit to work on my proposed program for the entire year? We know that the nature of this fellowship weekend is such that you might hear about other people’s brilliant ideas and want to adapt them for your own campus community. We want you to come prepared to workshop your ideas for your proposed program, but it might be that your entire program outlook changes because of your experience in this fellowship. We want you to be working on a program, even if it isn’t exactly what you proposed on your application.

Will it be wicked fun? Absolutely.

What’s the hashtag? Join the conversation on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at #hucjir! And be sure to like or follow us on all three!

Do I have to be a Reform Jew to apply? No. We hope to find a diverse cohort, from different parts of the Jewish world. We expect many of our applicants will either be Reform Jews or more generally progressive Jews. We are looking for open-minded people whose Jewish values guide their work in the college communities and beyond; if they’re Reform Jews, great---if not, equally great.

Do I have to be Jewish to apply? Yes.

How Jewish does my proposal have to be? To see what some of our applicants might be thinking about working on, see our Portraits section. If you have any specific questions about if your project is “Jewish enough,” feel free to email us at

Will we have free time during the fellowship weekend? Not much. We hope all participants have an enriching experience in this fellowship both because of the high-quality programming and because of the experiences they’ll have in two amazing cities. The evenings will be fairly late and you will be expected to show up ready to work in morning. The only chunk of time to really hang with folks outside the program is after 1pm on Sunday afternoon, or before 4pm on Thursday before we start.

How old do I have to be to apply? Fellows will be 18 or older by the time of the fellowship weekend.

Will there be chaperones? No, not really. While fellowship coordinators will be with the participants for the majority of their time in NYC, participants will be expected to be on time and present by themselves.

Is alcohol permitted on this trip? Is Manischewitz the only possible adult beverage? We expect participants to follow New York State Law for the duration of the fellowship.

Is this the first year of the Founders’ Fellowship? Originally titled “The Smashing Idols Fellowship,” the Founders’ Fellowship is in its third year.  Aside from the name change, all other details of the fellowship have stayed the same.  Cohorts 1, 2 and 3 are incredible groups of leaders and thinkers!  We are excited to see what the next cohort will do and look forward to welcoming you.


Contact Us

Please feel free to contact the Founders’ Fellowship team at