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Young Judaeans Have “Life Changing” Experiences Volunteering Over Break

Genever McBain

(New York, NY -- January 04, 2008)
-- American high school students have a myriad of vacation opportunities available during their school break, but last week 40 Jewish high school students from across the U.S. opted to forgo vacation and relaxation, choosing instead to participate in hands-on service projects in Los Angeles, CA. The program, Alternative Winter Break (AWB), took place from December 23-30, 2007, and was organized by Young Judaea, the Zionist Youth Movement of Hadassah, in conjunction with Jewish Funds for Justice.

This “life changing experience,” as described by Nicole Fleischman, a 16-year-old from Harrison, NY, took participants out of their everyday surroundings and immersed them in an entirely different environment to engage in intensive community service and experiential learning designed to both enrich and transform. While in LA, the group learned about problems faced by members of communities, such as the homeless, with whom they otherwise might have had little or no direct contact.

AWB’s community service opportunities focused on two main issues: 1) urban revitalization and 2) environmental awareness and restoration. Through the program, participants volunteered directly with three local organizations – LA Family Housing, LA Neighborhood Housing Services, and LA Eco-Village – spending five to seven hours each day on specific projects, including digging ditches for the installation of solar panels, reorganizing the library at a transitional living center, or delivering Christmas presents to homeless families.

Sean MacDonald, a 17-year-old junior from Boxford, MA, feels that “though the gift of giving satisfied [him] beyond comprehension, [he] also walked away with so much more.”

By integrating an ongoing educational component into the program, AWB participants built community, explored their Jewish identity, and left the trip with a deeper commitment to service. In addition, by the end of the week, participants earned a total of 31 community service hours through the program.

“My eyes have been opened to so many issues,” declared Netta Ben-Hashal, a 15-year-old freshman from Atlanta, GA.

“I truly feel that, when I go back home, I will want to volunteer at a shelter,” affirmed 16-year-old junior, Felicia Sokol, from Kansas City, MO.

AWB’s ultimate goal was to springboard participants into a lifetime of active civic volunteerism, in which the tenets of community and tikun olam (repairing the world) become a part of everyday life. According to all of the teens, that goal was certainly met.

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