Hillel links young movers with established shakers

The San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center has a reputation for offering helpful resources and programs for Bay Area graduate students. But in the late months of 2006, executive director Alon Shalev still felt something was missing from the organization’s services.

“We were looking to get a prevailing mentorship program started that could be the foundation for years to come,” Shaley said.

Armed with proceeds from an extensive grant process aimed at funding a mentorship program, Shalev and SF Hillel approached Lynn Bunim, president of the Business Leadership Council of the Jewish Community Federation, about connecting Bay Area business leaders with Jewish grad students in law and business for the spring 2007 semester.

A beneficiary of mentoring, Bunim signed on to volunteer and played a leading role in recruiting other prominent figures from the Jewish business community to help out.

“We wanted to aid these students by developing job leads, helping them network appropriately and assist in other basic job preparation tasks like resume reworking and role playing for job interviews,” Bunim said.

The SF Hillel Jewish Business and Law Mentorship Program kicked off in February with a private dinner for the students and leading Jewish community figures. Two panel discussions — one on law, the other on business — were held in March, followed by a closing dinner ceremony in April. In between, the mentors were expected to meet with their graduate students for two “power lunches.”

Anja Litvak, a law student at New College of California, values the informal personal connections she made with her mentor, San Francisco Deputy Attorney General Hadara Stanton. “She was incredibly helpful and approachable,” said Litvak, a native of Latvia who completed her undergraduate studies at San Francisco State University. “She is young, so it was easy to talk to her. She had some great advice for me, and she’s already helped me out a lot by introducing me to a couple of potential job opportunities.”

For some, the mentorship program turned out to be more than a simple feedback exchange between the participants. Mentor Ronnie Caplane, a commissioner for the California Workers Compensation Appeals Board, found solace in the similarities she and her student were personally experiencing.

“She knew my husband had just died, and she was dealing with the death of her father,” Caplane said. “We talked a lot about the substantive stuff about business, like office politics and other topics, but we also talked about other subjects, like coping with the loss of loved ones.

“A mentor’s responsibilities include life advice as well,” she continued. “For the program to work, there needs to be a commitment from both sides, which is what my student and I had.”

The success of the inaugural mentorship program prompted SF Hillel to schedule an extended session for the fall and spring semesters of the 2007-08 school year. Shalev expects at least 40 students to participate in the program’s latest incarnation. “The aim is to create the next generation of Jewish leadership in this community,” Shalev said. “The mentorship program is an exciting opportunity to see that idea become a reality.”