Archive for : Israel

JNF Alternative Spring Break Alumni Reflect on Service

Over the last few years, alternative spring break programs have become an increasingly popular choice for college students, both Jewish and not, looking to make a difference in the world during their break from academia. Since 2006 the Jewish National Fund’s Alternative Spring Break program has brought more than than 800 participants to Israel for a week of service and learning, as well as the “fun in the sun” traditional to most spring breaks.

JNF’s spring break participants each raise $975 (or more) for the organization’s Blueprint Negev campaign, then spend a week learning about the southern half of the country – it’s people, cultures and the various economic and ecological challenges it faces – and then do hands-on work to help improve communities throughout the region.

We asked four JNF Alternative Spring Break alumni to share their thoughts and perspectives on how the experience impacted their thinking on tikkun olam (repairing the world).
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Machshava Tova Narrows Israel’s Digital Gap

From Intel’s satellite empire, to the seemingly countless number of internet startups popping up each year, Israel is known for its techno-savvy. What fewer people know is that within this digitally gifted country exists a significant technological gap. Many lower income and otherwise marginalized individuals and families have unequal access to computers and computer training.

Since 2003, the organization Machshava Tova has worked to narrow this striking gap, and create a more equal technological (and therefore economic) playing field for all of Israel’s residents. Through their innovative programming, they reach more than 5,000 people each year – Jewish and Arab, secular to ultra-Orthodox, new immigrants and long-time residents – in cities across the country. CEO and co-founder, Daniel Weil, took the time to discuss Machshava Tova’s work and the importance of fostering a community of technologically-empowered citizens.
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Repair Interview: Tamar Alon and BINA / Arab-Jewish Community Center

In a country where stories of coexistence all too infrequently make headlines, the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Israel is nothing short of inspirational. Centered in the mixed Jewish, Muslim and Christian neighborhood of Jaffa, the center promotes coexistence as well as leisure and educational activities for its 3,000 members. The dance, art, sports, music, theatre and language programs as well as community service work and student tutoring/mentoring help strengthen all three communities, while bringing them together for dialogue and social interaction with one another.

The AJCC staff is greatly aided by volunteers – especially those from Tikkun Olam – a yearlong service program run by the organization BINA. Tamar Alon, who worked at AJCC with BINA volunteers for several years before joining the BINA team this year, spoke with me about the special partnership.
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Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future Engages Students in Service

Yeshiva University may be best known as a college that combines Torah learning with serious secular studies, and a premiere institution for training orthodox rabbis. But in recent years, YU has also become a hotbed of service and volunteerism.

Founded in 2005, YU’s Center for the Jewish Future “draws on Yeshiva University’s rich intellectual resources to renew and refresh, strengthen and support…” Jewish communities through learning and service work. The Center is responsible for creating many innovative programs, including direct service trips like their upcoming mission to New Orleans (May 25th-June 1) where students engage in volunteerism and disaster recovery, meet with Jewish communal leaders, and discuss tzedakah and sustainable aid.
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Repair Hero: Osher Perry

Osher Perry probably does not sleep, or if he does he must be one heck of a multi-tasker. Service – to his home country of Israel, and to the people in it – has always been a priority for Perry. After 8 years of service in the Navy, he is now an MBA student at Tel Aviv University’s Soafer International Business school. This year, he organized a program called MBA Cares, which promotes ethical business practices and service amongst his fellow business students. And in his “spare time,” he is part of the Nets of Peace initiative, which looks to build economic opportunity for Palestinians in Gaza through aquaculture. Perry took a few minutes to speak about growing up in Gaza, the year he spent sailing around the world, and why peace must grow from the bottom up.
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Photo Journal: In the Forest with BINA and JNF

Just about every Jewish kid (and many non-Jewish kids too) has had a tree planted in their honor in Israel. Far fewer have ever actually seen said tree…or even visited a forest in Israel. But on a recent service trip with BINA and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), participants found themselves up close and personal with a bona fide Galilean grove.

BINA was founded in 1996 with the goal of being a “vibrant center [in Israel] for Jewish learning and Tikkun Olam.” Their programs for young adults include study, social action/justice work, and community leadership, including a 5-10 month program that engages 22-28 year olds in both service and Jewish learning. (Participants choose between a coexistence track and a community service track.) The organization also runs a secular yeshiva in Tel Aviv, along with a wide variety of other programs.
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Report from the Field: More from Haiti

Micha Odenheimer, founding director of Tevel b’Tzedek, is blogging from Haiti this week for Repair the World. For the past two months, nine volunteers from Tevel b’Tzedek have been working to support the communities devestated by the January 12 earthquake, running the only school in the Petitionville refugee camp. Read the previous post here and check back tomorrow for more.

The streets of Port au Prince are far emptier than on any “normal” day—there’s a gas shortage, so buying gas means a wait of hours at a gas station, or buying “loose” gallons on the black market for 12 dollars and fifty cents. Still, on the way to a meeting, traffic is slow enough to be startled and delighted by the names the Haitians give their businesses: The Shekhina Food Shop, Adonai hardware and utensils, the El Shaddai School. Biblical language—and especially, apparently, sundry and profound varieties of Hebrew divine names—are burned into Haiti’s consciousness. The Biblical story of liberation from slavery resonates here. I wonder how it feels for my secular Israelis compatriots to see their own religious language—both strange and familiar to them writ large on sign boards in a place so far from home.
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Spotlight On: Yom Ha’atzmaut’s (Israel Independence Day): Connections to Service

On May 14, 1948, the modern State of Israel was formally established. The day itself, of course, marked the culmination of decades of struggle by early zionist leaders, and the realization of Theodore Herzl’s dream. In the years since Israel’s founding, many Jewish communities around the world have incorporated the corresponding Jewish date (the 5th day of the month of Iyyar) into the holiday calendar. The holiday is preceded by a Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, Yom Hazikaron or Day of Remembrance.

There is not yet a formal, agreed-upon way of observing Yom Ha’atzmaut, though it is a national holiday in Israel, which means virtually everyone gets the day off of work or school. In America, many Jewish communities celebrate by throwing concerts, parades, readings and prayer services, and singing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, to show their solidarity. In 2008, Israel turned 60 years old, which sparked even more celebration and festivals than other years.

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Tuesday Link Roundup

This past Sunday was Yom Hashoah, also called Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance day. In honor of the day, here are some interesting service and heroism bits from around the web, plus two opportunities to get involved.

Things to Read

  • (JTA) Rumor has it that two of the three leading candidates to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court are Jewish women.
  • (NYTimes) A touching article about a Haitian dancer who lost her leg in January’s earthquake highlights the importance of international charity in Haiti’s recovery.
  • (Mashable) For the first time ever, online journalists received an illustrious Pulitzer Prize for their work. The history-making stories included: a piece on ProPublica about “the urgent life-and-death decisions made by one hospital’s exhausted doctors when they were cut off by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina,” and a series of editorial cartoons on SFGate.com
  • (NY Jewish Week) An article in the Jewish Week reports how many Holocaust survivors in NYC are living in poverty, and often fall below charity’s radar screens. The article also includes resources for survivors and places to donate.
  • (Joshua Venture) The Joshua Venture Group just announced their eight fellows, who will receive funding and support for their groundbreaking programs in social and environmental justice, community building, spirituality, education and the arts. Meet the fellows here.

Things to Do

  • (TED) The inspiring TED Conference, which is dedicated to convening the world’s most inspiring thinkers, is coming to Tel Aviv on April 26. The conference called “Thriving in Turmoil” will focus on the country’s catalysts for innovation and creativity. You can register to attend here (attendance is based on an application), or attend via simulcast here.
  • (Sparkseed) The non-profit organization dedicated to developing the next generation of social entrepreneurs is currently accepting applications for summer interns. Find out more and apply before April 30 here.

Photo Journal: Service in Israel with Otzma

Otzma is a 10-month program that offers 20-26 year olds the opportunity to live and volunteer in Israel. Founded in the mid-1980s and still going strong, the program is designed to build ties between North American Jews and Israel, provide opportunities for experiential education, and offer ways for people to make meaningful service contributions to Israeli communities.

So what does Otzma really look like? Current participant and freelance photographer Meira Gottlieb shared this photographic depiction of her Otzma service.

The photos show the full range of service experiences, from teaching yoga and English, to working with kids in classrooms and after-school programs, to helping out gardening at a moshav. Check out the slideshow below – and for full captions, click through to Flickr.