Rebecca Steinberg, Class of ’22, has been an Undergraduate Fellow since the summer of 2020. She is an English major and Human Rights minor, and currently sits on the Executive Student Board of Berkeley’s Hillel. Having gone to Catholic school for most of her life, she is especially interested in interfaith programming. In the future, she plans to pursue her Masters in English and eventually practice as an in-house IP lawyer in the television and film industry. She encourages all Cal students to get involved with things outside of their comfort zone.
Why did you choose to be an Undergraduate Fellow?
I’ve always been attracted to the legal system and had a strong connection to my Jewish identity, but before being a Fellow, I hadn’t found a platform or an academic space that united the two. The Institute, which I learned about through friends and professors, was the first and best platform I found that united these two passions.
What impact is the Institute having on your experience as a Cal student?
The only other Jewish involvement I’ve had has been either cultural or religious. Before becoming an Undergraduate Fellow, I had no experience in the realm of Israel Studies or Israeli culture. As a Fellow, I’ve gained a powerful foundation through programming and seminars with visiting professors and Israeli scholars. I can now engage with a higher brow of intellectual confidence. I don’t turn away from conversations that seem challenging because I now feel I have something to respond with. I wholly attribute this to the Institute and all the programming I’ve been fortunate to be involved in.
Having a network of connections has been huge for me. Before, I had only interacted with other Jewish students in a social context, hanging out outside of campus. Now I feel like I have this amazing network of intellectually-motivated, bright students and access to professors. Initially, my access to professors as an underclassman was limited because I had bigger classes. Once I started as an Undergraduate Fellow, I had so much more access to professors through the Institute. I’ve been lucky to talk to them one-on-one, ask a lot of questions, and establish great relationships.
Laura Hassner’s seminars in our Fellowship meetings have been so amazing. I think they’ve brought a real emotional aspect to the Institute, instead of just an academic one. I really appreciated her emphasis on mental health and storytelling. It made it easier to think about the programming we are doing from a storytelling perspective, which I’d never thought of before. I also really like all of the Israeli dance performances, because they’ve given me a cultural understanding of Israel.
Was there an event or moment that stands out to you during your time thus far as a Fellow?
The first program I helped organize was the series on Black and Jewish relations with Ilana Kaufman and Marc Dollinger. One of the reasons I feel more confident speaking up in difficult situations was because I had asked Ilana Kaufman how to best engage in a space that’s not welcoming. She said, “Look, you have this foundation of understanding, and now you have a platform to share that understanding.” That’s something that sparked a real change in how I approached difficult conversations.
Do you have any pieces of advice for Berkeley students just starting out?
For Jewish Cal students — don’t limit yourself to exploring only the type of Judaism that you grew up with. I stuck to the cultural side of Judaism for a long time, and I think that prevented me from exploring the religious and political aspects of Judaism, which I’m now so grateful to be involved in. Berkeley has so many avenues for Jewish involvement, so take advantage of them!
To all Cal students, I’d say don’t be afraid of getting involved with things outside of your comfort zone, or that you never would have thought of being involved in in the past. I joined the ping-pong club for about a week, realized that there were Olympians in the club, and slowly backed away. Regardless, it was one of the strangest and most wonderful things I could have tried. Go to Calapalooza and explore!