New York—As participants on winter missions organized by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, more than 90 students traveled to Kharkov and Sumy in the Ukraine; Kiryat Malachi, Kiryat Gat, and Dimona in the Negev region of Israel; areas of New York that were heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy; and cities across the Midwestern United States to make an impact and hone their leadership skills.
“Our hope is that these experiences have empowered our students to explore their own unique creative gifts, and to realize through engagement—through leaving their comfort zone—that they are not only empowering others but transforming themselves,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, vice president for university and community life at YU and the David Mitzner, Dean of the CJF.
In the Ukraine, 20 students volunteered in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to gain a better understanding of the challenges Jewish communal life in the region has faced in recent history, such as communist persecution and antisemitism, and how Jews there are working to renew and restore their rich traditions.
Forty-two students participated in “Counterpoint Israel: Winter Camp,” a 10-day mission aiming to empower Israeli teens from low socio-economic backgrounds. Serving 850 teens in seven student-run camps, the curriculum focused on English enrichment and self-exploration through art, encouraging students to examine their Diaspora roots and develop a personal narrative based on their findings as part of a larger “Israel-Diaspora Relations” theme.
“Over the past winter and summer missions, I’ve met and bonded with so many of the sweetest, funniest and most sincere kids,” said Sam Weinstein (’15SB) of Teaneck, NJ, a returning counselor on the trip. “I keep coming back because I feel like we’re making an impact among the youth of Kiryat Malachi, and each year that we return only adds to that impact and makes it more concrete and long-lasting.”
Back home in the U.S., 24 students participated in “Jewish Life Coast to Coast,” an interactive learning and volunteer experience that gave them the opportunity to study how different Jewish communities across North America cope with the varying challenges they face, as well as how each one functions on a day-to-day level to meet the unique needs of its members.
A group of 20 YU students devoted their winter break to a different kind of communal challenge in their own backyard: partnering with Nechama, a Jewish disaster relief organization, to repair damage to neighborhoods hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. As they did everything from putting up drywall and painting to installing insulation in crawlspaces, students were able to help four families get a little closer to recovery after the storm’s long-lasting impact.
The CJF’s Winter Missions are run with support from the Jim Joseph Foundation and Repair the World.