Eighteen-year-old Aliza Saunders is living in Portland, Oregon, for the next nine months, thanks to a $1,000 Lester Robert Morss Scholarship awarded recently by Columbia Jewish Congregation. Saunders, a Columbia resident, 2018 graduate of Atholton High School and rising freshman at Cornell University, is participating in the Tivnu: Building Justice Gap Year Program.
The scholarship is named after scientist and professor Lester R. Morss, recognized for his work with inorganic chemistry, radiochemistry and thermochemistry. The scholarship was inspired by his love of science and learning and established to assist students pursuing study in Israel or a Jewish service project in the spirit of tikkun olam.
“After reading about the kind and passionate man that Mr. Morss was and looking over the components of the scholarship, I thought that my experience on Tivnu aligned well with the scholarship’s emphasis on tikkun olam,” said Saunders, who will be majoring in design and environmental analysis at Cornell.
During her nine months with Tivnu during this post-high school gap year, Saunders will be living in a communal household with other Jewish young adults and interning with three nonprofits, including a newspaper run by homeless individuals, a policy advocacy organization and a construction organization. The group will also take trips, such as camping and skiing excursions.
“I will celebrate Jewish holidays with my cohort and study with both Jewish and secular scholars about the root causes of poverty and concrete solutions,” she said.
So far, Saunders is loving the program, even though she just arrived in Portland. Building a Jewish home and caring for the environment are goals of the program.
“I hope to gain a deeper and even more complex understanding of the complicated and sometimes unjust world around us, as well as learn about my role in this world, specifically how I can impact positive change,” she said. “Through face-to-face interactions and educational sessions, I hope to learn about and experience the day-to-day struggles as well as large-scale solutions. After Tivnu, I will go into college and the world with a new perspective of social justice and how I can impact change in my every day and professional lives.”