By Tatyana Fishkina and Naama Shani
This winter, as we returned from Weinberg Hillel Tzedek Mission in Israel, we were motivated to do a social-action program. After a short brainstorming session, we decided to record books on tape for blind children and adults. Halfway into the planning process, we received additional inspiration while attending a presentation by a young Israeli woman at the Charlotte B. and Jack J. Spitzer B'nai B'rith Hillel Forum on Public Policy. She spoke about her work with the mentally handicapped at Beit Noam, a non-profit organization in Israel. Her story confirmed to us that there was a need out there for these tapes. Based on the notion portrayed in the movie "Pay It Forward," we decided to name this program "Play It Forward!"
After almost two months of preparation, it finally happened last week on two Hillel of Silicon Valley campuses as students came to designated recording rooms to read books in several languages. More than 40 students participated in the recording sessions, recording more than 120 books and short stories in Russian, English, Hebrew and Spanish. Students whom we had never seen before in our Hillel were part of this Tzedek event. The participants really put their hearts into it; many put hopeful dedications and warm wishes on the tape's jackets.
Now that the fun part is over, our work begins. We will be reproducing the tapes to be distributed to Jewish Family Services in the San Francisco Bay area, which will in turn give these tapes to new immigrants who do not speak English and to blind children. The participants in Hillel's mission trip will bring our tapes to the the former Soviet Union in May. Hillels in South America will distribute the tapes to blind children and adults. We are also in touch with several organizations, including Beit Noam, that are anxiously awaiting the arrival our tapes.
We can already sense the difference the program made in our students. Some, inspired by it, have shown up at Hillel's doorsteps holding tapes they made on their own. One girl told us, "When I explained to my roommates what these tapes were for, they all wished to participate and made tapes of their own." There could be no greater reward for us than hearing that "Play It Forward!" lives up to its name.
Tatyana Fishkina and Naama Shani are students at San Jose State University and co-chairs of the "Play It Forward!" project at Hillel of Silicon Valley.