First Night of Chanukah, November 28 – Josh Pogonitz, Rena Auerbach, Liat Katz
A member of the ICJA Class of ’20, Josh Pogonitz spreads the light by being an advocate for Mental Health Awareness. After graduating from ICJA, Josh attended Yeshiva Torah V’Avodah; he’s now a full-time college student at Loyola University and spends his free time educating others, continuing work he began while he was still a student at ICJA.
In high school, Josh helped run mental health workshops, alongside ICJA alum Miriam Ament, founder and president of No Shame on U, working to educate students about mental health and destigmatize mental health illness. “I shared my mental health journey and struggles, as well as different coping mechanisms,” Josh explains. He was named “18 Under 18” while in high school, and developed a mental health education project as part of that program. Since graduating from ICJA, Josh has continued to advocate for mental health, writing articles and appearing on a podcast for Upward Community (formerly Madraigos Midwest).
Josh credits ICJA with helping to his advocacy work. “During our freshman year health day, Miriam Ament spoke,” he recalls; “I was inspired at the time and very enthusiastic.” Later on, after transitioning back to ICJA after spending time during his junior year in a mental health program, Josh found himself warmly supported by the ICJA community. “That enabled me to move forward with my life after the program, and in being a mental health advocate.”
After graduating from ICJA in 2016, Rena Aurbach attended NYU, then made Aliyah in 2020, moving to Herzliya. “I figured there would be a lot of people my age here” because of the presence of IDC Herzliya – “and I was right. But this past summer, all the amazing friends I made in Herzliya graduated from IDC and moved to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem because there ‘aren’t people our age (in Herzliya)’ But that’s not true! So I decided to create Netzach Herzliya to encourage young professionals and recent college graduates to stay in Herzliya.”
Since starting Netzach just a few months ago, Rena has already organized a group of 100 active members of the community from 20 different countries. “We have bi-monthly Shabbat Onegs on Friday nights,” she explains. Each week, Rena hosts 20 people for Shabbat dinner in her apartment. The community is growing now and Netzach is beginning to add weeknight events to its programming.
Rena credits ICJA with inspiring her to build Netzach, particularly the strong Zionism that infuses the school. At ICJA, Rena absorbed the value “of coming to Israel and making a difference – not just learning about Israel, but actually living the life” there. Since making to Aliyah, Rena has grown her connection with ICJA by becoming a resource for information about Israel for students and alumni who are considering moving to the Jewish state as well.
Liat Katz, a 2019 graduate of ICJA, attended Midreshet HaRova in Israel in 2020, and unfortunately had to leave early due to Covid. Her love for Israel and learning brought her back to HaRova for a second year. While attending HaRova she made the decision to make Aliyah and start college at IDC Herzliya. While waiting to start college she volunteered at Melabeve, an all-American nursing home in Israel for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Once school began, Liat moved to Herzliya where she began going to Shabbat meals and events from OU-JLIC. Liat saw a need for more to be done and started to ask how she could help: she attributes her desire to reach out and volunteer to help others to the foundation she gained at ICJA. Liat was asked to join the OU JLIC board as the co-director of learning and shiurim, a position that enables her to bring more religious programs to the IDC Herzliya campus. In addition to her volunteer work with JLIC, Liat is constantly inviting people to her home for Shabbat to make sure everyone has a place to go and no one is left behind.