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Center for the Jewish Future Winter Missions Take Students across the Globe

Their papers are written and the last little blue book handed in but for 170 Yeshiva University students, the learning’s just beginning. The Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) is offering seven intersession missions spanning three continents and five countries, engaging students in experiential education that will explore Judaism’s relationship to the global environment and Israel, the development of community life in cities across the United States and the historical and modern identity of Ukrainian Jewry.

Rabbi Brander addresses students taking part in CJF's winter missions.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander addresses students taking part in CJF's winter missions

“We have observed a profound impact on our students when these meaningful experiences begin with proper preparation and contain opportunities allowing the participants to serve as real change agents,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “The most important journey our students will engage in is the path of self-discovery that occurs through these programs.”

Originally from Caracas, Venezuala, Perla Maikhor, an education major at Stern College for Women, will participate in the Mexico 2011 Humanitarian Mission. “I wanted to show passion and devotion as a Latina Jew doing tikkun olam [repairing the world],” she said.

Avi Wollman, an information systems major at Sy Syms School of Business, chose Project Kharkov to deepen his understanding of Ukrainian Jewry. “It’s a unique opportunity to experience a place firsthand with such a rich Jewish historical culture,” said the Teaneck, NJ native. “I hope to leave understanding the life and mindset of Jewish peers living there.”

Read on for winter mission highlights.

Jewish Life Coast-to-Coast 2011

With support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Jewish Life Coast-to-Coast mission will take 20 YU students to Atlanta, GA; Richmond, VA; Charleston, SC; and Boca Raton, FL—four communities in different stages of development. They will engage in volunteer work and meet with educators, professionals and rabbinic and lay leadership to learn about the history, challenges and dreams that shape each community’s identity.

Coast to Coast

Jewish Life Coast-to-Coast mission

Project Connect: A Place Called Home

Forty YU students will explore their dual loyalties to their homes in the Diaspora and Israel in this week-long mission. Meeting with olim [immigrants] and citizens of widely diverging backgrounds, religious beliefs and political perspectives, they will immerse themselves in the complex issues at the heart of aliya and Israeli citizenship today. Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger, rosh yeshiva at YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), will accompany the students on the mission, which is supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Students taking part in Project Connect: A Place Called Home

Limmud NY 2011

Thirteen students will serve as ambassadors from YU to the 2011 Limmud NY Conference in upstate New York. At Limmud, a diverse community of Jews come together for a four-day convention that includes lectures, workshops, text-study sessions and discussions. Students will interact with Jews of all denominations, sharing their commitment to an Orthodox lifestyle and benefiting from the opportunity to spend a weekend with other Jews on a path of spiritual exploration.

Project Kharkov

On this two-week program, 20 YU students will delve into the rich heritage and complex post-communist identity of Ukrainian Jewry, accompanied by Rabbi Brander. In Kharkov, they will volunteer with local Jewish peers and visit shtetls outside the city. Students will also be rooted in social and historical context through discussions with Russian American Jewish Experience participants in New York and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in the Ukraine. Project Kharkov is run with support from the Eckstein Family andRepair the World and in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Project Kharkov

Project Kharkov mission

Building the Negev: The Quest Leadership Mission

Quest is the CJF’s intensive two-semester training program for undergraduate leadership. To highlight Quest Fellows’ focus on the importance of their work and the values that drive meaningful and effective leadership, the Quest II experience culminates with a mission to Israel, where participants work on volunteer projects and meet with a diverse cross section of Jewish communities and their leaders.

The Quest Leadership mission focuses on the Negev, spending time in Yeruchum, Be’er Sheva, S’derot and Halutzah, an area in the Negev where still-displaced Gush Katif evacuees plan to settle. Quest participants have raised awareness and $40,000 for the Halutzha cause all semester and will deliver those funds on the trip. They will use their hands to develop the land and their minds to engage with students and leaders of the community. After a year studying and practicing leadership, this mission will expose students to leadership that has overcome great obstacles and inspire them to implement that strength and resolve in their own lives. The Quest Leadership Mission is run in partnership with the Jewish National Fund.

Mexico 2011 Humanitarian Mission: Learn, Give and Grow

In Cancun, Mexico, 16 YU students will work with Hombre Sobre La Tierra (HST), a humanitarian group that seeks to provide Mayan peasants with the means to produce their own food and integrate women into the Mexican economy. Students will be paired with individual families in the Muchucuxcah community in the municipality of Chankóm and learn agricultural techniques rooted in Mayan tradition. Class sessions addressing Jewish concepts like tzedaka [charity] and tikkun olam [repairing the world] will frame the experience in a light of self-growth and moral responsibility for humanity.

Nicaragua 2011 Humanitarian Mission: Learn, Give and Grow

Servicios Medicos Comunales, a nonprofit association that supports community-based development initiatives, will host 16 YU students in Boca de le Montana, Nicaragua. Living among locals and sharing their way of life, students will learn about issues that affect developing countries as they work together to enhance living conditions in the community. Class sessions focusing on tzedaka and tikkun olam will ground their work in the context of Jewish responsibility to improve world conditions. Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani [spiritual guidance counselor] at YU will accompany students on this mission.

The Humanitarian missions to Nicaragua and Mexico are in partnership with the American Jewish World Service.

Students taking part in humanitarian missions to Nicaragua and Mexico

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Jan 8, 2009 — This winter break, 30 students from Yeshiva University and other colleges across the US will visit Texas as participants in the Jewish Life Coast to Coast Service Corps run by YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF). The goal of the program, sponsored by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, is to create a life-shaping experience for the students by immersing them in Jewish communal life, exposing them to leadership opportunities across the country and providing them with the hands-on opportunity to help rebuild hurricane-damaged areas.

“Through their involvement and research, the students will gain a better understanding of the needs of the greater Jewish community and broader world community and how they can be a positive factor,” said Aliza Abrams, director of the Coast to Coast program.

As part of the program, students will meet with local rabbinic and lay leaders in Houston and Dallas, provide hurricane relief as volunteers in Galveston, work in lower income communities, contribute as educators and learn the importance of community involvement.

“I hope to attain leadership skills along with an appreciation of how easy I have it in New York,” said Stephanie Gampel, a Queens College sophomore. “Hopefully, this trip will help me to facilitate the growth of more Jewish communities.”

Rabbi Ari Segal, YC ’98 and WSSW ’01, head of school at the Robert M. Beren Academy— Houston’s largest K-12 yeshiva day school—and founding rabbi of Congregation Ahavat Yisrael, is excited to have the Coast to Coast students visit the Beren Academy.

“This program connects us to the larger Jewish world and lets our community know that we are part of something special,” said Rabbi Segal. “We can tell our kids about the value of having a Torah Umadda education, but when they sit with a group of students who represent the notion, it can be a life-changing experience.”

Evan Zauder, a Yeshiva College senior and first year semicha [rabbinic ordination] student at YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), will be participating in the Coast to Coast program for the third time.

“It’s really a pleasure to visit these smaller Jewish communities,” says Zauder, who plans on eventually living in one of these cities. “I consider my Coast to Coast experiences ‘pilot trips.’”

To learn more about the Center for the Jewish Future, please visit www.yu.edu/cjf.

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Jan 8, 2009 — Sixteen Yeshiva University undergraduate students will experience a different kind of learning when they travel to the Central American country of Nicaragua on this year’s humanitarian winter mission sponsored by American Jewish World Service (AJWS) Volunteer Corps and coordinated by the Center for the Jewish Future. From Jan. 11-18, the students will be hosted by Servicios Médicos Comunales, a nonprofit association that supports community-based development initiatives in the district of San Juan del Sur in southwestern Nicaragua.

The group will be assigned to Achuapacha, a village in San Juan del Sur approximately two and a half hours from the capital city of Managua. They will help construct a bridge, interact with the local community and learn about issues affecting the developing world. Living among the locals, sharing their way of life and performing hands-on tasks to improve their standard of living will open their eyes to the issues that affect Third World countries.

“These trips fulfill our mission of inspiring students to make a difference in the world,” Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the CJF, said. “Service learning programs create experiences that enable our students to realize their potential to make an impact, which is why they are such an important component of our student programming.”

Staff from AJWS will run classes in the afternoons addressing topics in world poverty, the specific socio-economic issues facing Nicaragua and the Jewish values of tzedaka [charity] and tikkun olam [repairing the world]. Using Judaic texts and secular literature, the students will learn about the complex responsibilities of addressing global poverty and with issues such as micro-financing and the World Bank.

The students will be accompanied by Chaviva Fisher, CJF director of operations, and Rabbi Zvi Schindel, who will provide the Torah learning component of their studies and oversaw their halakhic issue while on the trip.

The students will stay in a modest, three-room building with electricity and latrines, but no running water; bucket showers will be available near the building.

According to AJWS, at least half of Nicaraguans have no access to electricity or communications. Government spending on health fell from $50 per person in 1983 to $16 per person in 2000. In 2003, some 840,000 children did not attend school, unemployment was 13 percent and half the population still lived in poverty. AJWS supports nine organizations in Nicaragua working in the areas of microcredit (combining small loans with other needed services that help borrowers), training for women’s rights and economic development organizations, HIV/AIDS prevention, sustainable agriculture and youth leadership.

The mission to Nicaragua is one of three winter service learning programs being run this January. Students on the Project Connect Mission to Israel will perform outreach to and learn about the country’s immigrant communities of Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, while another group will learn about Jewish communal life and volunteer in lower-income areas hit by recent hurricanes in Texas as part of the Jewish Life Coast to Coast Service Corps. All three programs are subsidized by a grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

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Feb 27, 2008 — When David Sugarman signed up for the Center for the Jewish Future’s humanitarian winter mission to Thailand with the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), he thought it would be an exciting opportunity to immerse himself in a foreign culture while helping the poor. But for the Yeshiva College freshman, who has a strong interest in social activism, volunteering in the impoverished village of Bon Kamklang in southeast Asia wound up being more than that—“it was an immersion in ideas,” he said.

“Whether discussing our roles as Jews in world affairs, or witnessing firsthand the terrible poverty that over a sixth of the world lives in, the trip challenged many of my assumptions and strengthened many of my convictions,” Sugarman, a resident of Riverdale, NY, said. He was one of 16 YU undergraduates, seven men and nine women, who spent a week in Thailand in January.

Each day, the group gathered to learn about world poverty and the Jewish values of tzedaka [charity] and tikkun olam [repairing the world] under the guidance of the AJWS staff. Using Judaic texts and secular literature, the students grappled with the complex responsibilities of addressing global injustice and with issues such as micro-financing and the World Bank.

“I learned so much from the AJWS staff—they were passionate about the issues and had a lot of education and experience to share,” Sugarman said.

Living among the villagers awakened the students to a world of poverty they knew little about. Camped out in an old schoolhouse made of branches, they helped construct the foundation of a new four-room school for the local children. They slept on thin mattresses surrounded by protective mosquito nets, used bucket showers and toilets, and ate a diet of white rice, fresh vegetables, and Pad Thai, a popular Thai dish made with stir-fried rice noodles.

On Shabbat afternoon, they visited the villagers in their homes to discuss many of the pressing issues that affect their lives, such as financial hardships and health care difficulties. The experience made a strong impression. “They lived in elevated huts made out of wood with metal roofs. There were cracks in the floor, torn mosquito nets, no luxury possessions,” Sugarman explained. “What little possessions they had, we learned, were all financed with loans they would never be able to pay back.”

Witnessing the community’s poverty, the YU contingent consulted with local leaders and came up with the idea of setting up a loan fund for the teachers to buy basics such as mosquito nets, shoes, and food. They collected about 6,000 baht ($200) among themselves and the teachers came up with a system of fair distribution.

“We thought that by helping them get out of the red, we’d be giving them a great opportunity,” said Yoni Frankel, Presidential Fellow at the CJF, who organized and accompanied the students on the trip. “This will enable them to sustain themselves and their community. And it will grow at a rate of two percent every year,” Frankel said.

During the week, the students also spent a morning teaching the local children the English alphabet and numbers, and introducing them to classic American games such as Duck, Duck, Goose. They visited a drop-in center run by the Pattanarak Foundation, a Thai NGO focusing on community development, near the Thai/Laos border and participated in an HIV awareness parade.

Throughout the trip, the students observed their Jewish traditions under the guidance of Ari Schwarzberg, a semikhah student at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, and his wife, Naomi. But the trip also presented a new lense through which to experience their Judaism. “Singing ‘Lecha Dodi’ in the school that we helped build for the children we had spent a week getting to know, was a remarkable religious and life experience,” said Sugarman.

The rewards of their immersion in a foreign culture were tangible. “The villagers said our participation saved them time and money, and without it the completion of the school would have been severely delayed,” Schwarzberg said.

On their return, the students felt that in one sense, their journey was only just beginning. Sugarman said: “I believe that now is when the real purpose of this mission presents itself as we begin to ask ourselves what we can do to fix the world.”

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Nov 16, 2006 — Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) is working with the American Jewish World Service to send 15 students to Central America in January for the university’s second humanitarian mission.

The YU delegation will travel to Guatemala from January 7-14 to help them with sustainable development and building projects.

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is an international development organization that helps thousands of people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas move beyond poverty, illiteracy, disaster, and war. AJWS believes that empowering individuals and communities regardless of race, religion, or nationality advances human dignity and transforms the world for the better.

Upon acceptance to the program, students are obligated to attend seven hours of mandatory orientation sessions. It is at these sessions where vital information will be distributed, and important issues regarding the trip will be discussed.

The Center for Jewish Future will ensure that this trip is run in full accordance with halakha.

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Jan 27, 2005 — Hakarot ha’tov (expressions of gratitude) was the motivation and theme of a recent trip to the Republic of Palau by 10 students from Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy—Yeshiva University High School for Boys. The students embarked Jan. 9 on the 10-day journey to show their appreciation for the tiny North Pacific nation’s steadfast support of Israel in the United Nations.

Other than the United States, the three nations of Micronesia—the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Marshall Islands, and Palau—are the only nations who consistently vote in favor of Israel when resolutions condemning Israel come before the UN General Assembly.

View photo gallery from mission to Palau

“Government to government, Palau has a good relationship with Israel, and is the recipient of Israeli diplomatic and foreign aid,” said Daniel Schuval, director of student affairs at MSTA and trip coordinator. “But many Palauans had never met Jews before, and this was an opportunity for us to explain who we are and why the Jewish community outside of Israel is so grateful for their support.”

Schuval said the trip was the first of its kind to Palau, and that people there enthusiastically embraced the students’ symbolic gesture of friendship.

The trip was the culmination of a months-long project that began when MSTA junior Avram Sand became interested in why the three Micronesian countries so consistently support Israel. His phone call to the Micronesian Mission to the UN led to its ambassador speaking at the high school last spring and to Sand working at his office last summer.

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Jan 17, 2004 — A mission of nine students from the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy/Yeshiva University High Schools (MSTA) traveled to the Republic of Palau on Jan. 9 as an expression of gratitude for that nation’s steadfast support of Israel in the United Nations. Other than the United States, the three nations of Micronesia — the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Marshall Islands and Palau — are the only nations who consistently vote in favor of Israel when resolutions condemning that country come before the UN General Assembly.

At a reception held prior to their departure, Avram Sand, an MSTA Senior, thanked Stuart Beck, permanent representative of Palau to the UN, for his assistance and encouragement in arranging the trip for MSTA’s Israel Club. “We hope to impart an understanding of the Jewish people and Israel and lay the foundations for friendship between our peoples,” Mr. Sand said.

“The purpose of this mission was to demonstrate ‘hakarat ha’tov,’ appreciation and recognition of Palau’s support of Israel,” said Daniel Schuval, director of student life at MSTA who escorted the group. “We also endeavored to learn more about the history and culture of our friends halfway around the world and to develop stronger ties with them.”

The interest in Palau by the Israel Club was the result of research done by Mr. Sand, who interned at the Micronesian Mission to the UN during the summer of 2004. Mr. Schuval proposed the trip to the ambassador, who welcomed the idea and helped with planning.

“This trip was a mitzvah,” said Ambassador Beck. “We are thrilled that you undertook this mission and had the opportunity to express your gratitude and that of the Jewish community. We are proud to vote on Israel’s behalf and to demonstrate that Israel is not alone.”

Zina Kalay-Kleitman, minister-counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN, commented on the importance of Israel’s relationship with the Pacific states. “Every friend Israel has in the UN is very valuable and this was a beautiful endeavor that will hopefully create good will,” she said.

The students were hosted at Palau Community College and met with political leaders, visited schools, hospitals, and outer islands. They brought kosher food for their 7-day trip as well as a Torah scroll to be used during daily prayer services. The students plan to produce a documentary to be used as an educational tool highlighting Palau’s history and its relationship with Israel.

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