Kohn internships let college students peek into 9-to-5 world

Sunlight drifts in through the large bay windows lining the hallway of the Jewish Home in San Francisco as Abby Cohen wheels resident Bette Frishman to a hot chocolate social after an afternoon poetry reading.

As a Kohn intern, Cohen’s days at the Home are split between two responsibilities: visiting with residents, which includes greeting people and taking them to events, and working in the marketing department.

“I get to have both experiences, of working with people and working behind the scenes of running the Jewish Home,” she said. “It’s eye-opening to see what it takes to run an operation like they do.”

Kohn interns fill out surveys for Shalom Bayit during a Friday seminar.

Cohen, 20, is one of 30 interns stationed this summer at 30 Jewish agencies in the East Bay, San Francisco and the Peninsula. The Kohn summer intern program provides a peek at the 9-to-5 lifestyle many will encounter after college, as well as a chance to explore different facets of working in the Jewish community.

The program, now in its 24th year, is a project of Jewish Vocational Service, and is funded by the Jewish Community Endowment Kohn Fund of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. It also is supported by a grant from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, and the Milton and Sophie Meyer Fund.

For Cohen, who attends the University of Arizona, working at the Home has been a reflective experience.

Engaging with the residents “gives you perspective on life, and that you should take the chances you have to explore the world while you are young,” she said.

On the other end of the age spectrum is Kohn intern Rachel Weber, 21, who is working with young children alongside the counselors in training and junior counselors at the Peninsula JCC summer camp in Foster City.

This year, Weber and her colleagues are working with First Step for Families, a San Mateo County program that helps formerly homeless people get back on their feet. While parents are at work or doing workshops with the program, their children are taken on field trips.

Abby Cohen (right) spends time with Jewish Home resident Bette Frishman. photos/meredith malnick

One afternoon, Weber accompanied the children on a trip off the the shelter grounds, to play games in a local park. “At the end of the day, while we were walking back to the shelter, one of the kids came up to me and told me that he wished I lived at the shelter with him,” said Weber, who attends Lewis & Clark College.

For Aram Hava Salam, 21, interning at the Israel Center in San Francisco is a chance to connect with his roots. As a native of Jerusalem, “being here is a feeling of comfort,” he said.

This is the first summer Hava Salam, who goes to Menlo College, will not make the trip back to Israel, but working at the Israel Center has helped alleviate some of his homesickness. Hearing stories about Israel from colleagues and speaking Hebrew in the office gives him an “overwhelming feeling of nostalgia,” he said.

This year, intern coordinator Danielle Beres added several new components to the Kohn program after receiving feedback from past interns.

For the first time, Beres tapped previous Kohn participants to mentor the 2009 interns; mentors check in with their interns periodically and give advice on their current internships, as well as their future careers.

The interns also went on a retreat at the Contemporary Jewish Museum before starting work at their agencies, which gave them a chance to socialize and talk about issues facing the Jewish community.

“Kohn is a way to bring 20-somethings back into the Jewish community, and what a better way to get an insider’s view [of the community] than to work within a community of their peers?” Beres said.

“Kohn is not just an outlet for now, but later in life interns can come back and become leaders in their Jewish community.”

Interns work at their agencies Monday through Thursday; on Friday they convene at the federation offices in San Francisco for a day of seminars, which include guest speakers on a variety of topics. This year’s speakers have included Rabbi Stephen Pearce of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El and Rabbi Eric Weiss of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center.

Also featured at the Friday seminars is an experience central to Jewish life: Kabbalat Shabbat. But rather than lighting candles and blessing challah, the interns share stories, poems and other works they find meaningful.

The Kohn interns graduate from the program on Aug. 7, but they have plenty to look forward to in the next few weeks — including a career exploration workshop, where they will work on shaping their resumes and improving their interview skills.

In light of the current economic climate, the seminar will aim to “build confidence and help interns go out into the real world and be able to succeed, without the ongoing recession affecting their chances,” Beres said.

The economic downturn is not far from the minds of many interns this summer.

“The recession is one of those things that I think about often, but never really believe that it will directly affect me,” said Aria Auerbach, 21, of Wheaton College, who is the intern at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. “However, I now realize how lucky I am to have a job that is both enjoyable and paid.”

This year the program took only 30 interns, three fewer than in recent years, while the number of applications skyrocketed to 82. “This was the most competitive year ever for Kohn,” Beres said. “Some really tough decisions had to be made.”

For many interns, the summer symbolizes a return to a Bay Area after a year away at college, and a foot in the door of becoming Jewish community leaders.

“It’s Jewish community 101 — learning what all of the organizations do, how they operate, and their impact on the community,” Hava Salam said.


The 2009 Kohn interns

The following is a list of the 2009 JVS Kohn interns and their agencies: Aria Auerbach, S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation; Nate Barker, Jewish Film Festival; Alyssa Breetwor, Oshman Family Jewish Community Center; Abigail Cohen, Jewish Home; Alexi Dagan, Jewish Vocational Service; Hila David, American Jewish World Service; Haggai Dziesietnik, Jewish Community Relations Council; Nathaniel Farber, Congregation Emanu-El; Molly Feehan, Chai Preschool and Chabad of San Mateo; Brooke Feldman, Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay; Marie Franco, Institute for Curriculum Services; Rachel Freeman, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco; Erica Goodwin, Anti-Defamation League; Seth Hamlim, Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation; Aram Hava-Salan, Israel Center; Lev Hirschhorn, Shalom Bayit; Aaron Katz, Osher Marin JCC Camp Kehillah; Emily Lakrtiz, Contemporary Jewish Museum; Gina Levy, JIMENA; Meredith Malnick, j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California; Daniel Marcus, Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay; Hila Peretz, Jewish Milestones; Roshann Pressman, S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services; Maya Protter, Jewish Community Endowment Fund; Randee Schwartz, Jewish Coalition for Literacy; Rebecca Seigel, Jewish Family and Children’s Services–Peninsula; Daria Tabak, Judah L. Magnes Museum; Aaron Tartakovsky, AIPAC; Hannah Tecott, Bureau of Jewish Education; Rachel Weber, Peninsula Jewish Community Center.