Yoni Benzacar, Brawerman Fellowship* recipient and recent Emory University graduate with a major in Political Science, shares how the Fellowship helped him create his path to success and grow as a leader.
What was your most meaningful experience with the Brawerman Fellowship?
When I arrived at the Brawerman Fellowship retreat in August of 2017, I didn’t know what to expect. Overdressed and underprepared, I stepped inside the room ready to present myself in my most professional and esteemed light. Our meeting began with Fellows introducing themselves and their many involvements. I felt underqualified next to my peers and assumed that this space was where high-achieving Jewish students competed with one another. However, as the meeting progressed, I quickly realized how wrong I was. After introductions, current Fellows went around the room offering advice, instruction, and their personal wisdoms to new members. Whether explaining registration, the route for choosing a major, or how to make time for oneself in such a hectic environment, they communicated care above all else. This first retreat set the tone for my entire Brawerman experience. Throughout the ups and downs of college, the Fellowship taught me how to follow interests and create my own path in order to become the best possible version of myself.
How has the Fellowship impacted your college experience?
The Brawerman Fellowship has introduced me to students from many different universities across the country. While each Fellow’s experience at a given university is unique, many common elements also exist across campuses. During retreats, Fellows are given a space to talk through various issues together. Whether discussing political dissonance, campus activities, administrative qualms, or the experience of Jewish or Israeli students at a college, the ability to communicate with students of similar backgrounds from different schools is incredibly unique. Despite differing perspectives, conversations about each Fellow’s respective college experiences illuminate common themes as well as campus-specific elements. With insights on how different campus cultures engage with certain issues, I was able to garner a more global perspective of how to confront these situations with a more nuanced and objective understanding.
What does it mean to be a Brawerman Fellow?
My first two years at Emory were characterized by a sense of ambivalence and ambiguity. Though I was enjoying living in a new city and meeting new people, the process of trying to figure out what I cared about and who I wanted to be was incredibly taxing. In trying to set goals and identify aspirations, I felt a strong sense of doubt not only of what was to come, but of who I was in that moment. In these times of vehement uncertainty, I could always look to the Brawerman Fellowship for validation. Whenever I felt intimidated or underqualified, the very notion that I was equal to my incredibly impressive Brawerman peers gave me a sense of confidence in my capabilities. Being able to call myself a Brawerman Fellow meant so much more than being a recipient of a scholarship — it affirmed that I was supported, cared for, and invested in by a community that wholeheartedly believed in me.
What are you thankful for?
Having recently graduated college, I am able to more clearly look back at the opportunities and experiences that helped shaped me into who I am today. Despite experiencing significant losses in recent years, I feel an abundant sense of gratitude, blessings, and luck in my life. As I continue my transition from youth into adulthood, I think of my parents’ story — both grew up in Jerusalem with few comforts. They immigrated to America and hit the ground running, rarely pausing to think of their motivations or wants. Growing up in traditional homes, both sacrificed many of their own preferences for their families. As an extension of these sacrifices, I feel immense gratitude for having been able to make decisions about my life autonomously and attend the college of my choice. As a recipient of the Brawerman Fellowship, I was financially and emotionally supported in this process and in writing my own story. I will forever be grateful for having received the college experience I always wanted made available to me through the Fellowship and my family alike.
*Through the Brawerman Fellowship, our Federation develops and sustains a talent pool of Jewish young leaders for our community in perpetuity. The Fellowship provides an annual $10,000 college scholarship — a total of $40,000 over four years — and participation in a larger program that builds leadership skills and further strengthens Fellows’ connection to Jewish life through retreats, a trip to Israel, and other overseas opportunities.