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Jewish Studies

Student Experiences

Jennifer Garcia, Jewish Studies Minor, May 2022

To say that Fresno State has opened a world of opportunities for me is an understatement. Through the CSU International Programs, I was able to study abroad for two semesters in Haifa, Israel during my second year at Fresno State (Fall 2019 - Spring 2020). This was something that as a first generation student I didn’t even know was possible. Before Fresno State, I had only been to one part of Mexico. I hadn’t been exposed to other parts of the world yet. I specifically chose Israel, one of the less sought after study abroad destinations, because I have been fascinated by the country’s history and the Middle Eastern conflict from a young age. Learning about Israel from the Bible was just not enough for me. I had to go visit it for myself. I remember getting on the plane and beginning to cry because I was scared to leave for that long. I intended to go for one semester but Israel only offered year-long programs, so it was all or nothing. But I am so incredibly proud of myself for taking that risk and going for that long. The girl that didn’t want to leave at first, was the same one that didn’t want to come back home when Fresno State had us return early due to COVID-19.

Studying in Israel was a life changing experience to say the least. I had some incredible adventures. I hiked Masada at 3 a.m. to be able to see the sunrise once I reached the top. I visited Bethlehem, the Jordan River, and Jericho. I hiked through Ein Gedi multiple times and immersed myself in the beautiful waterfalls that locals called “huge.” (I managed to convince some that there were bigger ones in Yosemite). I spent countless days on the beach in Haifa doing homework and enjoying the sunset. I made several trips to Jerusalem to visit historical sites and get tours. I went horseback riding for the first time on a private beach in Haifa. I rode a camel. I floated in the Dead Sea and managed to get salt water in my eyes every time I went. I camped out in the Negev. And don’t even get me started on the food. I’d be here all night if I told all of you about everything I loved.

I, of course, also studied while I was there. Believe it or not. I took the most interesting courses I’ve ever taken. I was taking intensive Hebrew classes, history classes, ancient literature classes, psychology, and Bible classes. I was able to complete my Jewish Studies minor abroad, too. Through my classes and travel experiences I met some of the most incredible people: local students, international students and also professors. I left Israel with many new friendships that I still stay connected with. 

This trip has opened my eyes to the people, cultures, and world around me. In addition to learning about the complexity of the Middle Eastern conflict, I’ve returned as a more open minded and appreciative individual. I became more independent living in a whole different country with new languages, too. Because I got to know myself better abroad, I realized I had a strong interest in International Affairs. This is why I will be pursuing my Masters in International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University in the Fall.

I will always be grateful for the endless opportunities that Fresno State has blessed me with. And since Fresno State prides itself on being a diverse community that encourages international experience I am honored to have helped emphasize and continue that legacy. 

I will be graduating with a Bachelor’s in International Business and a minor in Jewish Studies as a first generation college student. Getting to this point in my life is a huge milestone and I have so many people to thank for helping me get to this point. But first and foremost I want to thank The One Above for being by my side and guiding me throughout these four years of university. My parents who have supported me endlessly and I don’t know how I can ever repay that. My two brothers who have also motivated me and encouraged me to lead by example. I must also thank Dr. Fields who played a huge role in me going abroad. She was so welcoming since the first time I met her. Dr. Russell also helped prepare me before going abroad and I am beyond thankful for them. All of my other professors, faculty, and loved ones also contributed to the person I am today.

For all those that are also graduating, I’d like to say congratulations we did it! We continued our studies through a pandemic and so many virtual classes. We managed to stay resilient and to work hard despite all the difficult times. Best of luck on your future endeavors. 


Tanner O'Brien, Jewish Studies Minor, May 2022

I am a psychology major and also receiving a minor in Jewish Studies. I became involved in the program after taking Dr. Dan Cady’s class on American Jewish Popular Culture. Dr. Cady taught on the subjects of racism, religion, linguistics, film, art, music, sociology, history, and many different other fields relating to the Jewish experience in the U.S. Learning about such a complex interdisciplinary field fascinated me and inspired me to learn more about the Jewish culture. One of the courses I took apart of the Jewish Studies minor was doing an internship with the Jewish Federation of Central California and working with Phyllis Farrow and Jeri Horwitz of the Federation. I had an amazing time getting to know them, learning more about the Jewish community in the Valley and Jewish culture in general. Some of the tasks that I helped the Federation with were delivering food to families that were home bound during the pandemic and for the holidays, I also helped with putting together events, and other services. I was very grateful to be invited as a guest of the Federation for a Passover Seder dinner at temple Beth Israel. I found it to be a very beautiful ceremony understanding what I learned in class and I really enjoyed the experience.

What I like about the Jewish Studies Program at Fresno State is that a wide variety of the students that are enrolled in the program come from different backgrounds and religions. I really appreciated how the program helped students and myself, educate us and enlighten us about Jewish culture and history.

I would also like to say thank you so much for all the work that Dr. Jill Fields has done for the Jewish Studies program. She has exposed myself and all my peers to a wide range of different speakers relating to Jewish history, art, politics, and other topics to Fresno State and the community.