University of Maryland and University of Southern California Hillel students play games and share an afternoon snack with the children at a soup kitchen/community center in Uruguay.
Over the past few years, there has been a surge in the popularity of "Alternative Spring Breaks", where college students trade Caribbean cruises and lavish ski trips for the chance to travel to help communities in need. This year, Hillel's alternative spring break numbers continued to soar, but even more exciting was the growth in the diversity of global destinations.
"Local campus Hillels are planning trips to destinations rarely visited and some trips are even student-led," explained Michelle Lackie, Director of Weinberg Tzedek and Associate Director of Immersion Experiences at Hillel International. "Participants are serving in diverse global communities, some with a local Hillel and prominent Jewish community and others that are virtually void of Jewish life. This type of cross-cultural experiential learning has been extremely successful in engaging students in Jewish life and narrowing the gap between North American and international Jewish communities".
More than 40 Hillels participated in global alternative spring breaks over the past two months, whether it was organizing their own trips to Guatemala, Cuba or Berlin or traveling to volunteer alongside peers from Hillels in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Moscow. This is in addition to the 50 Hillels participating in domestic alternative breaks organized by the Schusterman International Center in locations such as the Gulf Coast and Tampa, Florida.
"Nearly 250 students decided to come to Latin America and spend a week doing volunteer work, getting to know the local Jewish culture and sharing experiences with Latin American peers," said Gabriel Trajtenberg, Hillel Latin America Regional Director. "The students were committed to the Jewish value of tzedek (social justice) and tikkun olam (repairing the world) through hands-on service, Jewish learning and reflection."
"When I left the favela (shanty town) on our last day of work, I looked back and realized how much was done in a few days," reflected William Harris, a student at Bucknell University and participant on an alternative break to Rio. "Not only the physical work, but the interactions with the community, the learning and understanding. It all makes sense now. Our tzedakah was way beyond the actual work."
Further north, Northwestern University in Chicago spent an alternative spring break week in Cuba, providing relief efforts, interacting with the local Jewish community and touring historical Jewish sites.
"While we were repairing and visiting the Jewish cemetery with other local Santa Clara Jews, we put our arms around each other in a circle and starting singing a prayer that I recognized and could sing with them," described Sara Kenigsberg, a junior at Northwestern University. "I felt a common identity and a common link. That is something I will remember throughout my life."
Stanford University Hillel Students with their Russian peers in Moscow.
Across the globe, Moscow Hillel hosted an eager group of spring breakers from Stanford University in California as part of the Student Leadership Program (SLP), an initiative organized in 1999 by Hillel and the Eurasian advocacy group NCSJ. Eight students from Moscow and eight students from Stanford engaged in discussions, sightseeing, volunteering, meeting public and media figures, politicians, journalists, embassies and Jewish organizations.
No spring break trip would be complete without online photo albums, videos or blogs posted to share with family, friends or one's home and campus community. Read more about the above experiences and other global alternative spring break trips on the following websites:
Stanford University Hillel Visits Moscow (JTA)
Tufts University Hillel Visits Berlin (Tufts E-News)
University of Virginia Hillel Visits Uruguay (Hillel blog)
University of Illinois Hillel & Elon University Hillel Build Greenhouse in Uruguay (video)
University of Southern California Hillel Visits Uruguay (photo album)
University of Maryland Hillel Visits Uruguay (Hillel blog and video)