Jewish Students Exemplify the Spirit of Service with Hillel Alternative-Break Programs
March 15, 2005Comments (0)
| E-mail this to a friend For Jewish students dedicated to social action, action is the key word this month as college spring-break season begins. From serving Jewish communities in South America to exploring the struggle for civil rights in the American South, students from all over the United States are participating in 39 alternative-break programs sponsored by Hillel.
The Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University organized this week's alternative break in Uruguay, where 22 students are renovating a senior center for Jews in a small community near Montevideo. The NYU students are also partnering with Uruguayan architecture students to build a community center for a nearby disadvantaged village.
"Spending seven days together in a unique environment will be a huge bonding experience," NYU senior Emilie Coburn said before the trip. "I'm looking forward to gaining knowledge about other communities and an area of the world I wouldn't have access to otherwise."
The Bronfman Center began sponsoring alternative breaks in 2000 with the support of American Jewish World Service, and it has also worked with Habitat for Humanity to organize alternative-break programs. Since then, NYU students have traveled to El Salvador, Mississippi, Texas and Mexico, according to Aviva Levine, the special projects coordinator at the Bronfman Center.
Wellesley College Hillel has also partnered with AJWS for its alternative-break program to Nicaragua. Next week, eight Wellesley students, accompanied by a professor, will volunteer in a women's health center in the Central American country. According to Wellesley College Hillel Interim Director Patti Sheinman, AJWS helped match the group with the project and has provided financial support, with additional funding coming from the college's Center for Work and Service.
Though the students have not yet left for Nicaragua, Sheinman is eager to see how they share their experiences with their fellow students when they return to campus, and she is also hopeful that the participants will continue to be engaged with Jewish life on campus.
"I'm hoping they'll come back inspired to educate their peers about what's going on in Nicaragua," Sheinman said. "But I also hope that those students who want to invest their time in this type of programming will want to stay involved and participate in other Jewish activities."
Jewish students from Towson University in Baltimore will experience "Southern Exposure" on a weeklong trip to the southern United States. Eight students from Hillel and eight students from the African-American Cultural Center will travel to Atlanta and Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., to visit historical sites such as the National Voting Rights Museum, the Rosa Parks Museum and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center. Timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the March for Voters Rights from Selma to Montgomery, the trip will focus on African American-Jewish dialogue then and now, and the history of the African American-Jewish collaboration in struggles for social justice and the civil rights movement.
The trip is part of Towson University Hillel's ongoing effort to strengthen its relationship with other cultural and ethic groups on campus, according to Director Ken Krivitzky.
"One of our goals is for different groups to come together and form a closer community. This program helps to fulfill that powerful vision," said Krivitzky, who has led similar trips with the group Operation Understanding, a Philadelphia-based organization that promotes dialogue between African-American and Jewish communities.
Plans for follow-up programming are already in the works, including a student photography exhibit and a freedom seder during Passover.
While most students spend their spring break in a warmer climate, Emory students are bundling up to spend their vacation in Minsk, Belarus. This alternative break is part of Emory Hillel's Tritt Social Justice Force, a two-year leadership program that provides Jewish students with the skills, training and support required to create programs that improve the lives of disadvantaged populations and make society more caring, moral and responsible. First-year Tritt students travel to Minsk for field work with the local Jewish community, and they are expected to create their own social-action programs back on campus during their second year in the program, said JCSC Fellow Maureen Melcer.
Emory senior Rebecca Liebeskind participated in the program last year and was touched by the local community's revitalizing interest in their Jewish heritage.
"These people are so sincere in their desire to be Jewish," she told the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta after her return. "They really want to make a lasting connection with us."
Thanks to the support of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, participants can continue to make an impact upon their return to campus by applying for grants to fund alternative-break follow-up programming.