YU Receives Schusterman Foundation Grant to Expand Volunteer Work in Needy Communities

The Schusterman Foundation grant will support student volunteer programs such as this previous trip to Israel, where students helped clean up a school.

Jan 11, 2008 — Each year more than 900 Yeshiva University undergraduates participate in a wide variety of service programs through YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF). In recognition of this significant commitment to providing service programs to the Jewish community and to humanity, the CJF has been awarded a first-time grant of $168,000 from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation for service-focused alternative winter and summer break programs.

The grant will support the CJF’s Student Service Corps of more than 80 students who participate annually in winter and summer break volunteer service and learning trips to Israel and the West and East coasts. The YU programs will include students from other college campuses in the New York metropolitan area.

“Many students want an alternative to typical winter break activities,” said Lynn Schusterman, chair of the Schusterman Family Foundation. “They want to lead and they want to make a difference. Whether here in the US or overseas, these volunteer opportunities can transform the lives of those served, as well as those who serve.”

“This grant, the first gift the Schusterman Foundation has ever given to YU, will enable us to increase the number of students engaging in community service by more than 30 percent,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of CJF. “That means more students seeing firsthand the impact of tikkun olam (repairing the world), learning leadership skills, and exploring these ideals as mandated by Jewish tradition.”

In the past, budget constraints limited the number of students the CJF could enlist for these trips. “The demand from students wanting to join our Service Corps exceeded the number of students we could accept,” said Rabbi Brander. “Now this grant from the Schusterman Foundation has made the opportunity available to a significantly larger group of students.”

Three of the four alternative winter-break programs being run by the CJF this January are cosponsored by the Schusterman Foundation.

Twenty-six students will travel to the West Coast, where they will perform 26 hours of volunteer service to benefit needy communities and the environment. The group will roll up their sleeves and paint a classroom for teens from single-parent households, build park benches in a low income Hispanic community, work in a food bank and soup kitchen, and plant native coastal dune plants in habitat restoration areas.

Study sessions will revolve around Jewish responses to the complex social and economic issues facing local communities, for example the plight of undocumented workers, which they will discuss with UCLA Hillel students of diverse Jewish backgrounds. The students will also help run a Tu’Bshvat Environment Program in partnership with the Jewish National Fund at the Shalhevet School, Oakland Hebrew Day School, and South Peninsula Hebrew Day School.

YU’s Student Service Corps Winter Break in northern Israel is comprised of two theme-based programs in which 40 students, 20 men and 20 women, will participate. Service and learning components will address important issues in contemporary Israeli society. This year the theme is shmitta, the sabbatical year occurring every seven years in which, according to Jewish law, farmland must remain fallow.

Program activities will focus on issues of food distribution, poverty, distribution of wealth, the environment, the relationship between secular and religious communities in Israel, and the impact shmitta is having on the various segments of the Jewish population. This aspect of the Israel trip will allow students to interact with and work alongside a cross-section of Israeli society. Students spend a minimum of 25 hours in direct service.

The students will also study the laws of shmitta with various Judaic scholars, including Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, rosh yeshiva at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Zev Reichman, director of YU’s Mechinah Program.

“Our students will be exposed to many sectors of Israeli society through the lens of mitzvot (good deeds) coming to life,” said Shuki Taylor, CJF project coordinator in Israel.

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