My Scholarship Journey

After two gap years in Israel, I came home to go back to school—at a university I felt incredibly privileged to be accepted to. Even with a generous financial aid package, I was overwhelmed by the costs I faced. I decided to be proactive and search for any kind of assistance I could find, and ultimately turned to the local Jewish community for guidance.

I’ve always been connected to the Bay Area Jewish community. During my childhood, I went to temple and Hebrew school at Rodef Shalom in San Rafael, where both my brother and I had our Bar Mitzvahs. It was the place where a lot of my cultural values and sensibilities were crystalized—education, empathy, justice, service/tikkun olam, tzedakah, and a commitment to a diverse and secure Israel. So, it seemed a natural place for me to look for help.

It was the height of the pandemic, and I had decided to transition to a pre-med track. For me, there were a lot of unknowns, but I received clear and helpful guidance from the Federation on how to apply for scholarships. I ended up winning the Nathan J. and Virginia H. Friedman Scholarship for three consecutive years, from fall 2020 to my graduation in spring 2023.

This scholarship made all the difference for me. Being able to renew my award through continued academic achievement and service gave me the security I needed to explore my academic and community-oriented interests. Instead of taking on as many hours as possible in a part-time job, I could afford to take unpaid research positions and volunteer extensively. My dedication to service deepened as a volunteer for the Cornell University’s American Red Cross Club, the Israeli nonprofit African Refugee Development Center, and Cornell University’s Brain Exercise Initiative. My two research assistant positions intensified my interest in the impact of drugs on behavior—and how elucidating the neural mechanisms of addiction may bring insights into the best ways to help those struggling with addiction.

Since graduating in May, my focus on addiction medicine and becoming a medical doctor have only grown. As I apply to medical school, I’m working at an addiction-focused clinic in the Bay Area. Helping people from my local community has been incredibly rewarding, and has affirmed my passions that grew while I was in college. None of this could have happened without the Federation and the Nathan J. and Virginia H. Freedman Scholarship. For that, I will always be grateful.

In terms of advice on applying - I recommend applicants simply be themselves. Don’t be afraid to express who you are, look for guidance when needed, and write about what you’re passionate about. The rest will follow.

The Federation's College Scholarship program is an important resource for students attending a college or university for undergraduate or graduate studies. Completing one application opens the door to consideration for up to 15 different scholarships. Apply by March 31. For more information, contact Steve Brown, Senior Director, Gift Planning and Endowments at

Categories: Young Adults, Teens


March 14, 2024


Joshua Dov Epstein