Amital Issac was no stranger to The Jewish Theological Seminary, having attended the Rebecca and Ivry Prozdor High School supplemental education program. Yet, if you had asked her at age 18 if she planned on continuing her studies at JTS, an emphatic "No!" and lots of laughter would have been her answer.
Amital, a native New Yorker, was one of a small handful of Jewish students at French Institute Alliance Française, a private high school that follows the French national system of education. At the time, Judaism did not feel like a critical aspect of her identity and she did not see it as central to her personal development.
Why did you choose to attend List College?
I initially wanted a more traditional college experience, but I brought the List College brochures home from Ivry Prozdor anyway. During the application process, I warmed up, but it was during a Shabbat meal that I attended in one of the Goldsmith apartments during Prospective Student Weekend that really sold me on the program. The atmosphere was just full of friends and warmth—I saw myself hosting the same kind of meal in the future and forging the same type of bonds.
I have never regretted coming here. Ever. The undergrad program here is the gem of JTS.
What do you like most about JTS?
I enjoy the primarily academic approach to the study of one of the oldest religions on the planet. It's completely changed the way I look at Judaism.
Tell me more about studying. What are some of the classes and who are some of the professors that stand out?
I loved God, Torah, Israel, with Nina Redl—she is an example of one of the finest faculty members JTS has to offer. Also, the fact that List College gives a course where students are absolutely pushed to test the limits of and examine their own faiths is essential, in my opinion, to any successful theological seminary. The course is a testament to the strengths of the List College program.
I also have to talk about Dr. Stephen Garfinkel and his Bible 1013 class. For the first time in my life, I read the Hebrew Bible cover to cover and ripped it apart. This demystified a work of literature that is held in such high regard and enabled me to begin my own relationship with the text itself, as opposed to simply reading commentary written and thought out by other thinkers. In his class, we were all valid thinkers and entitled to our hypotheses on the Bible and its origins.
What have you enjoyed about JTS outside the classroom?
At List College, you have people studying Yiddish, Aramaic, Hebrew; it is so diverse. This extends beyond language—I come from a non–USY/Ramah background, and I am making lifelong friendships with people who are and who are not from that background. It is extremely exciting. I never know where my friends will end up 5, 10, 20 years down the road, and it's a wonderful thing.
What do you like about living in the JTS residence halls?
The access to kitchens, for one thing. It's really thanks to the Mathilde Schechter Residence Hall and Goldsmith kitchens that I became the chef I am today.
And now you are a resident adviser in Goldsmith. What sort of programs have you introduced?
I like featuring activities that reflect our backgrounds—I host an annual French soirée, for example. Last year, we watched Amélie and I brought a plethora of French food. I plan to do the same thing this year with the French movie the Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob.
What happens after you graduate in May?
I am planning on sticking around New York for graduate school. I have already applied to the CUNY program for Journalism and am looking at production and scriptwriting.
What are you doing to prepare for graduate school?
Right now, I intern two nights a week at NBC Nightly News. My first internship in media was with Fox (two years ago), and then I interned at Hardball in the fall of 2010.
And in your free time?
Between teaching Hebrew School twice a week, going to Tae Kwon Do training, and taking classes, I don't have much free time, but I love being outdoors, especially in the center of the JTS campus, the courtyard. The courtyard feels like a lovely little cloister in the middle of Manhattan.