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You're Going WHERE?!

By Naomi Stanway on March 30, 2011


“You’re going where for spring break?” asked the cashier, as he was ringing up my new suitcase. ‘I’m going to Israel, with a non-profit organization to do different work projects’ was my standard answer. ‘Is that safe?’ was the typical response.  Yes, I would answer, it’s safe. Sure, there are parts of Israel I’m going to avoid, but let’s be honest; there are parts of New Jersey I stay away from too.

This was the dialogue I engaged in before my trip on JNF’s Alternate Spring Break. Professors, coworkers, and strangers all responded with the same question: why would you spend your vacation doing work when you could be sitting on a beach? As I explained the details of the trip – where we would be going, what we would be doing, how it was funded – my friends began to understand just what kind of opportunity I had found.  Suddenly, their spring break trips to Cancun and Key West didn’t seem so interesting and exciting.

Not long after landing in Tel Aviv, the other thirty-two participants and I joined with our tour guides and drove to Be’er Sheva for some initiation ceremonies. This trip, our guides explained, would be entirely different than Birthright. Our guides invited us to Israel’s backyard; we had already seen the beauty Israel has to offer, but now it was time to understand some of the problems the country faces and what we could do to help.

The next morning, we traveled to Dimona, a city in the Negev. We learned about the government subsidized apartments and the type of residents who live in them. We spent the morning painting the outside of the building, scraping off graffiti, and giving the building a fresh, clean walkway. The residents were so grateful that they offered us drinks and snacks as we worked and tried hard to communicate their appreciation, despite the language barrier. Though I have done many service projects before, I have never worked so directly with the beneficiaries of the project, and it was incredible to see the thanks on their faces. Yossi, a farmer in the Negev who we visited, told us that the weeding we had spent the morning doing was saving him a month’s worth of labor. We cleaned wheelchairs at Yad Sarah, an organization that makes medical equipment available to elderly patients, helped build the gardens at an Ethiopian Absorption Center, moved rocks to create terraces in Ein Kerem, and worked in the Carmel forests to help prevent future fires. We also visited the indoor playground in Sderot and learned about the work that went into creating the center and the children who spend time playing there.

Not long after we landed safely in New York, a wave of violence began in Israel. Bombs were landing in Be’er Sheva and Jerusalem – the very same cities that my friends and I had been living in. While it is now much harder to answer the question about safety, I am having a much easier time explaining the importance of the work that we had done. Knowing that there are groups of people willing to go to Israel and do the work that needs to be done is comforting, especially when you consider all of the people who are trying to destroy the country.  

This trip provided me and my friends an opportunity to literally get our hands dirty and do our part to keep Israel strong and beautiful. At the beginning of the week, we all knew that we would be doing important work, but we never imagined we would depart Israel with a new set of friends in addition to a renewed connection to the country.  I came home covered in scrapes and bruises, with sore arms and legs, and yet, it was the best spring break I have ever had. I can’t wait for spring break next year, so I can meet a whole new group of people and embark again on trip that will allow me to help the citizens and the land of Israel.

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