Discovering Their Inner Leader

CJF Winter Missions to Tackle Humanitarian Aid and Leadership Development in Haiti and Jewish Communities Across U.S.

Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) will send 36 undergraduate students on two innovative service learning programs during the University’s upcoming winter intersession. From January 10-18, student leaders will take part in an array of hands-on community building projects on a humanitarian aid mission to Haiti and another group will travel across the United States to analyze how individuals can become active and make a difference in the country’s diverse Jewish communities.

On the JDC Insider Service Trip to Haiti, 15 Yeshiva University students will collaborate on several Jewish service learning projects and meet with JDC-partner organizations to learn about Haiti’s history and the humanitarian issues present in Haiti following the massive earthquake in January 2010. The JDC, the world’s largest Jewish humanitarian assistance organization, provides multifaceted programming developed for the Haitian population, including medical relief, emergency services, access to clean water and food, physical rehabilitation, education, post-trauma relief, and job training.

The student group’s primary volunteer project will be planting trees and refurbishing community spaces outside a school and community center established by The Foundation for Progress and Development (PRODEV) in the city of Zoranje. Participants will also facilitate educational and enrichment activities for the school’s students.

Additionally, the CJF mission will visit and meet with representatives from Zanmi Lasante (‘Partners In Health’ in Haitian Creole), an organization that provides healthcare services to the poor; Heart-to-Heart International, which provides emergency medical care services to populations in crisis; and a team of Israeli and Haitian medical professionals and paraprofessionals who are treating amputees and others with severe limb injuries at the recently renovated Rehabilitation Center at Haiti State University Hospital.

“The primary goal of all CJF service learning programming is to inspire our students to become agents of change in their communities and the world at large. This exceptional group of students are energized and excited to exercise their hearts, minds, and bodies as they work to empower individuals and transform communities,” said Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “While pitching in to help rebuild the lives of the Haitian earthquake survivors, our student leaders will undergo an expedited process of growth and self-discovery that will lay the foundations for their future social justice engagement, including opportunities for public speaking, writing, advocacy, and volunteer service. Engaging Jewish communities across North America will open our students to the diversity and vibrancy that permeates Jewish life outside the New York metropolitan area.”

During the same timeframe, 21 students will take part in Jewish Life Coast to Coast, an experiential education mission that 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.

The group will meet with local rabbis, educators, and communal leaders in Atlanta, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; and Baltimore, Maryland, in an effort to gain a better understanding of the unique challenges faced by these diverse Jewish communities.

Highlights will include meetings with executive staff members from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the JCC of Greater Baltimore, and Jewish Gene Screen, an organization dedicated to the prevention of Jewish genetic diseases; a private audience with Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, historian and celebrated author; and a volunteer initiative focused on the organization of the Richmond Jewish Food Festival.

“As our students travel from community to community, they will see firsthand how individuals can truly make a difference in North America’s varied Jewish communities,” said Aliza Abrams, the director of YU’s Office of Student Life and Jewish Service Learning. “It is our hope that the students internalize these experiences, step up as the young Jewish leaders their local Jewish communities need, and employ their unique talents and abilities to shape the Jewish communal landscape.”