F&M Stories

Bridging Civic Engagement and Spirituality at F&M

The Davidowitz Family Endowed Jewish Life Programming Fund and Jewish Leaders of Tomorrow Endowment Fund open the door to leadership opportunities.

For recent Franklin & Marshall graduate James Overstreet, voting is more than a civic duty.

"Coming from the Jewish point of view, the idea of voting is a mitzvah. Essentially, you think of it like doing a good deed daily," Overstreet '21 said.

"Getting people registered was really important," he said.

Overstreet did just that. As the Klehr Center for Jewish Life's first civic engagement intern, he helped more than 50 students register as first-time voters through MitzVote, a nonpartisan program of Hillel International.

A dual major in government and American studies, the internship helped bridge the gap between his initial interest in politics and post-graduate pursuit of medical school.

"Medicine is an opportunity to give back to people of all shapes and sizes and all beliefs. It doesn't matter if they're a Democrat or Republican — they're people," said Overstreet, who is spending the summer shadowing Dr. Robert Clancy, founder of the Pediatric Epilepsy Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

"I like the idea of helping people live a good life," Overstreet added.

Overstreet's internship was made possible by alumni donations to the Klehr Center.

"There are such great, young leaders doing amazing things now in the Jewish world. I really wanted to support that kind of initiative, that leadership and that ability to develop their Jewish voices," said donor Lisa Portnoy '83.

Her contribution toward the Jewish Leaders of Tomorrow Endowment Fund supports student participation in regional and national workshops and conferences for deeper exploration of Jewish leadership and nonprofit organizations, among other initiatives.

The Davidowitz Family Endowed Jewish Life Programming Fund supports programming and events at the Klehr Center. For Neil Davidowitz, Esq. '78, P'14 and Doreen Davidowitz, Esq. '78, P'14, attending F&M "was a truly transformative experience."

"We both come from immigrant families. Doreen's father and my father were both Holocaust survivors. So for us, coming to Franklin & Marshall was transformative for our parents. Arriving at F&M in 1974 was magical for both of us and for our parents. The education we received and the friendships that were forged have been life-changing," Neil Davidowitz said.

The couple met during their first week at F&M. Their youngest daughter, Shanni, is a 2014 graduate.

Jewish life programming was vital in a year when many students battled loneliness and isolation, said Amy Zylberman, Klehr Center acting director.

"The synagogues that we would normally send our students to here were closed," Zylberman said. "We were able to get high holidays meals out. Students still broke the fast with Yom Kippur. They still were able to eat a hot Rosh Hashanah meal. It's a whole F&M experience."

"For a lot of people — myself included — this building became a second home on campus," Overstreet said.

In fact, the Klehr Center served as a perfect spot to interact with students from all walks of life.

"I believe that discourse is fundamental to our democratic system. Being able to engage in conversation with people who have different beliefs than me is really important," Overstreet said.

"I don't really care who you vote for as long as you vote. It's a privilege to be able to vote," he added.

A privilege, a civic duty and a mitzvah.

"There are such great, young leaders doing amazing things now in the Jewish world. I really wanted to support that kind of initiative, that leadership and that ability to develop their Jewish voices."

– Lisa Portnoy '83

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