Jewish students have joined the outpouring of relief efforts for the millions affected by the Dec. 26 tsunami in South Asia, and Hillel has taken the lead on several campuses in raising money for the survivors. With music, art and even razors, students are demonstrating their dedication to tikkun olam through their fundraisers.
Since the tragedy occurred during the holiday season, most students were off campus during the first week following the tsunami, but they quickly became organized once they returned for the second semester. At Concordia University in Montreal, Hillel Student President Jason Portnoy found that the Concordia Student Union had already booked the campus bar when he arrived back on campus on Jan. 3, and he quickly jumped at the opportunity to partner with the CSU for the "Rock to Rebuild" concert on Jan. 11.
"We didn't realize how little time we had to plan, but we said 'yes' right away," he said.
Concordia Hillel arranged for two bands to perform for free – "We're persuasive and persistent," according to Portnoy – and more than 100 students enjoyed the entertainment while bringing in more than $200 for Oxfam. Two days later, Concordia Hillel joined 10 other student organizations to sponsor Tsunami Relief Day, including the Muslim Students Association, Amnesty International, Asian Students Association and Indonesian Students Association.
"We often have campus-student issues at Concordia, so we wanted to have a unified front and get as many clubs involved as possible," said Tal Elharrar, the program coordinator at Concordia Hillel.
The event featured fine arts students creating calligraphy, Asian students performing breakdances and "Shave to Save," where students shave their heads for donations. All proceeds went to Oxfam. Doctors Without Borders also sent representatives to recruit volunteers for future missions.
At the University of Chicago, Jewish Action, Hillel's community service organization, and the Rhythm and Jews a cappella group hosted a concert and bake sale last week and raised more than $1,000 for the International Red Cross/Red Crescent., Students are also organizing a clothing sale to benefit UNICEF and the Red Cross this week. Plans for both events began before winter break ended, according to Jewish Action member Michael Ellsworth.
"We had previously done a clothing sale, and bake sales are fairly simple, so we knew we could pull it off," Ellsworth said. "Three members of Jewish Action, over e-mail during break, started planning to hold some fundraiser for tsunami victims. By Tuesday of first week, we had settled on having a concert and a clothing sale."
Classes just started again today at New York University, and students and staff at the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life already have an event planned for this evening. Artist Tobi Kahn, one of the founders of the Avoda Arts program, will help students create messages of support on several large campuses in the center's gallery. Students are invited to come throughout the week to express their solidarity with survivors through words and art, and each canvas will be sent to a different area affected by the tsunami. The evening will also feature a panel discussion with representatives from the UN World Food Program, the American Red Cross, the American Jewish World Service and a witness to the devastation in Sri Lanka.
"We already had a welcome-back party planned for this evening, and it didn't take long for the focus to shift to tsunami relief," said Adam Gaynor, assistant director of the Bronfman Center.
The following Jewish organizations are collecting donations for tsunami survivors:
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
American Jewish World Service
B'nai B'rith International
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