Spring Break Volunteers Go One Step Further In Israel with JNF, Participants Give More Than Their Sweat
March 20, 2008 --The trip itself could have been considered mitzvah enough but a group of students took it to the next level.
Nearly 250 college and post-college volunteers (18-30 year-olds) from all over the U.S.and Canada are in Israel with Jewish National Fund (JNF) with the help of a Schusterman Family Foundation grant, during their week-long spring breaks. As participants in Alternative Spring Break (ASB) they went to build terraces for farms in new Negev communities; collect surplus crops to be donated to soup kitchens and food pantries; work with disadvantaged populations in the Negev, and more.
For a group of about 30 of them, emphasis was on the word “more.” After putting in a hard day’s work on a small vineyard and farm in the Negev and hearing about the struggle to make a go of it, they decided to raise some money on the spot to give to the farmer. Not caring whether he used the money to buy food for his own family or new tools, they handed over 850 shekels at the end of the day. “He was so shocked, he didn’t want to accept it,” said Jennifer Weinstein of Columbus, OH, “but then he hugged us all.”
At the end of the week, many participants also left behind much of their clothing as well as the work gloves they had brought with them, to be handed out to those in need.
Alternative spring break trips are a growing trend on college campuses. JNF's ASB allows Jewish students to participate in this trend and also satisfies the yearning to go back to Israel. This unique experience not only helps the communities in which they work, it forms a lasting bond between the participants and the State of Israel.
Work on Na’ama Farms, a small, private vineyard and farm near the Negev town of Yerucham, consisted of sifting through dirt for mud to be used in building a mudhut; hoeing out the vineyard; and building a road from gravel, all with sub-par tools or none at all. The proprietor, a young man in his 30s named Yehuda, spoke to them during lunch about life on the farm and why, despite the hardships, he was determined to persevere.
“For me, I couldn't just leave the land after hearing this man's powerful story,” said Danielle McDonald of Bloomington, IN. “He told us about how he came to help fulfill someone else’s vision with his own selflessness. I wanted to convey the same thing to him; that we wanted to make his vision come true and to truly be able to help him succeed in creating and finishing the vision for the landowner. When Jen, Shelby and myself sifted the dirt to help make mud for the houses, the tools were falling apart. We knew that it would be a setback -- he was already working long hours by himself, but not having adequate tools would just be a handicap that couldn't be overcome. For us, it was just a way to say to Yehuda ‘we believe in what you are doing.’ It was such a small gesture on our end.”
Maybe so, but that gesture will stay with Yehuda and with the students for the rest of their lives.
Spread over three weeks to correspond to the different vacation schedules of the American universities, JNF’s ASB included students from more than 65 universities such as Columbia University, University of Central Florida, Tulane University, Indiana University, and NYU. Most of the work is in the Negev Desert where participants are engaging in physical and social activities targeted at having the greatest impact on the community. Half a day is spent in and around Jerusalem.
This will be the third year for ASB which has earned media attention -- it was showcased last year on MTV’s “The Amazing Break” -- and accolades from its participants -- “ASB was one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable programs that I have participated in,” said Ben Schulman of the University of Maryland.
According to a recent Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies study, while more than 100,000 college students and young professionals have taken their first trip to Israelon birthright israel, it is the second trip to Israel that creates a lasting connection.
“The need to connect Diaspora Jewry to Israel is greater than ever,” said JNF CEO Russell F. Robinson, “especially among our youth. ASB was created to imprint the participants with a lasting connection to the Jewish State. And our formula is working.”
To read more about ASB, visit the blog at http://www.jnf.net/blogs/asb/.
Caption: Alternative Spring Break participants make mud for a mud hut at Na'ama Farms in the Negev.
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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.
JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.
JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.
For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit www.jnf.org.