Building Community, At Home and Abroad

Students to Engage in Humanitarian Work and Service Learning During Winter Missions in Israel, Houston and New York City 

More than 50 outstanding undergraduate students will participate in service learning, experiential education, and humanitarian aid missions in the United States and Israel during Yeshiva University’s upcoming winter intersession. From January 15 – 22, the student leaders will take part in an array of hands-on community building projects, while developing their own leadership, teaching and advocacy skills.

In response to the wildfires that ravaged Israel in November, 15 YU students will spend their week-long winter break helping the Neve Tzuf (Halamish) community remove debris and rebuild their homes. In addition, the group will transform YU’s Israel Campus in Jerusalem into a festive location where they will run a carnival day for the youth who have been displaced due to the fires in an effort to buoy their spirits and lend a sense of normalcy to a difficult situation.

The students will also meet with Israeli first responders and ecologists to learn about the incredible efforts undertaken by international firefighting teams to extinguish the brush fires, as well as the implementation of environmental measures to allow the 32,000 acres of scorched earth to heal.

“We are calling this mission ‘Responding to Flames of Destruction,’ because in addition to lending a hand to the communities hit hardest by the wildfires, we will also use this opportunity to teach our students about the political and societal fires that continue to rage in Israel – hot-button issues like religious denominationalism and discrimination against minorities that divide Israeli society,” said Gabi Sackett, program director at Yeshiva University in Israel.

“By the end of the mission, the students will feel a sense of pride for making a difference in the lives of families who lost their homes and worldly possessions, but they will also be knowledgeable enough about the issues to become advocates for real change in Israel, even from a distance.”

During the same timeframe, 10 students will meet with local rabbis, educators, medical professionals and communal leaders in Houston, Texas, to gain a better understanding of the history, personalities and challenges that have shaped their Jewish community’s unique identity. Known as “Jewish Life Coast to Coast,” this experiential education mission aims to broaden the students’ Jewish communal knowledge through informative meetings, hands-on volunteering, and the students’ implementation of educational programs in schools, synagogues, and community centers.

Highlights will include meetings with executive staff members from the Houston Federation and Jewish community members employed by NASA, teaching in the Beren Hebrew Academy, and engaging with the United Orthodox Synagogue community.

“We are proud that so many of our students are spending their short vacations engaged in meaningful volunteer activities and learning real-life lessons about community and philanthropy,” said Naomi Kohl, director of student life on the Israel Henry Beren Campus. “By giving of themselves so willingly and striving to learn about Jewish life in other areas of the country, these students personify YU’s core principals of altruism, education and communal responsibility.”

On January 16, Yeshiva University will also be collaborating with Habitat for Humanity NYC for a special Day of Service to mark Martin Luther King Day. YU staff and students will work together on a construction project in Queens that will help revitalize homes in a low-income neighborhood. 

“All of these experiences will allow our students to engage in service that will make a profound impact on the lives of others and help them see that there are always opportunities to make a difference, whether around the corner or halfway around the world,” said Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, Vice President for University and Community Life. “By choosing service over vacation during their winter break, these remarkable students will embark on a journey of self-discovery that will make them reevaluate their priorities and modify their values. In essence, we are kick-starting their lives as Jewish leaders.”

Yeshiva University is thankful to the Houston community, Doreen and Beryl Eckstein and Neal’s Fund for making these initiatives possible.