While many of their peers luxuriated in tropical vacation spots, 23 students who are part of CJP’s Israel Campus Initiative (IACT®) rolled up their sleeves to serve Israel during their spring break in March.
By establishing The Lavine Family Leadership and Service Learning Fund at CJP, Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine provide college students with an alternative to the more traditional spring break vacations. Also referred to as Alternative Spring Break (ASB), the program brought students from Boston University, Northeastern University, Simmons College and Clark University to volunteer a combined total of more than 500 hours in Israel. Their work included tutoring children and working with them to build a greenhouse at the Nirim Elementary School, helping the Yemin Orde Youth Village to restore land that was damaged in the 2010 Carmel Forest Fire, and helping with a historic restoration at Beit Yalin, the first Jewish agricultural community built outside Jerusalem’s Old City. In their own way, each of these IACT alumni gave back and intensified their commitment to the country they first fell in love with during their initial Birthright trip experience.
Gateway to a deeper connection with Israel
In addition to daily service projects, students met with community leaders and journalists to deepen their knowledge of the Israeli not-for-profit sector as well as Israel’s history, cultural diversity, economy, and politics. The Lavine Family Fund is a key component of IACT, an initiative to empower students to participate in Jewish life and advocate for Israel on campus. After experiencing Birthright, a free 10-day heritage trip to Israel, IACT helps students to spark campus conversations, seek and create new Jewish learning and community service opportunities, and work collaboratively on pro-Israel projects across multiple campuses and in their local communities.
The volunteer experience allows participants to deepen their involvement in each of these three areas, while providing a second immersive experience in Israel. Many volunteers and IACT participants also go on to participate in a summer professional internship program in Haifa and Jerusalem called Onward Israel. Onward Israel is also supported by The Lavine Family Fund and offers 120 coveted spots in the eight-week internship program. Internships are available in a wide variety of professions, and include prestigious institutions such as Hadassah Hospital, Open House LGBT center and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. There are also opportunities in the for-profit sector, including internships at InSightec, a health care technology company; the hiCenter for entrepreneurs; and Go2Films, which specializes in movie marketing and distribution.
The Lavine Family Fund at CJP is designed to help engage the next generation with Israel and Jewish life. This Fund provides affordable, immersive post-Birthright engagement and experiential opportunities that allow young adults to deepen their relationships with Israel and each other.
“We created this fund because we want students to experience Israel for themselves,” says Jonathan Lavine. “We are committed to giving college students an opportunity to go deeper than an initial 10-day visit to Israel. What I love about this program is that when young people work side-by-side with Israelis and immerse themselves in the local life and culture—all while doing substantial work that benefits an Israeli community— they build relationships that last a lifetime. These trips are transformative—not just for the students themselves, but for all the people they touch and influence. We chose to partner with CJP because we see this as an investment in our future; we wanted to have a lasting impact on young adults, their friends and families, and on our global Jewish community.”
Going to Israel is going home
If you measure success by the depth of the students’ connection to Israel, then The Lavine Leadership and Service Learning Fund is making huge strides. Students recorded moving accounts of their experiences in blogs that reveal how life-changing one week in Israel can be.
A student from the trip expressed the unforgettable impact this experience has had, forever altering his connection to the land. "My experience emphasized that there is one thing we are not and that is ‘tourists in Israel’ because Israel is and will always be our homeland, therefore us coming to Israel is not tourism, but it is coming back home. My interactions with all of the people and the land that we worked reaffirmed this fact. I take away from this trip a renewed awareness and pride in my country, the only one that will always be welcoming of me and my people and will always be defending us against oppression and aggression. While I didn’t spend my time drinking beer under a warm Floridian sun, I did something better and more meaningful—I went back home to help repair the world in the name of tikkun olam (repair of the world)."
Bringing a can-do attitude back to campus
During the trip, the students also planned next steps for IACT's Hunger Relief Initiative. They used best practices gleaned from their Israel experience and from Jewish learning to help spur hundreds of IACT alumni to “act locally” on campus in the semester ahead. IACT alumni already facilitate several anti-poverty efforts, like Challah for Hunger and volunteer service opportunities at Boston-area nonprofits.
In past years, alumni of the program created an “Israel Runs with Boston” campaign to educate Bostonians about responses to community trauma in the aftermath of terror attacks. This campaign was based on Israel's assistance to Boston following the 2013 Marathon Bombing.
“This alternative spring break is beloved by our students,” said Anna Meyers, program director at Northeastern University Hillel and a trip staffer. “After Birthright, almost every student expressed a serious desire to return to Israel for a substantial volunteer experience. We view these volunteer service opportunities as a training ground for emerging leaders, most of whom will return to Israel for yet a third CJP program by the time they graduate.”