Student Leaders to Spend Winter Break Making a Difference, Deepening Relationships in Israel, Nicaragua, Mexico and the U.S.

Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) will be sending 91 outstanding undergraduate students on service learning, experiential education and humanitarian aid missions across three continents during the University’s upcoming winter intersession.

Students on a previous mission to Nicaragua set the foundation for a library in San Juan del sur.


From January 10-20, the student leaders will take part in an array of hands-on community building projects in Israel, the United States, Nicaragua and Mexico while developing their own leadership, teaching and advocacy skills.

Building on the success of the “Counterpoint Israel” summer program, 39 YU students will run a series of Counterpoint “Winter Camps” for over 450 Israeli teens in Jerusalem, Kiryat Malachi, and Dimona that will focus on English enrichment and self-exploration through art. Throughout the 10-day service learning mission, the students will guide Israeli teens through the process of developing a personal narrative and using multiple mediums to create multidimensional autobiographies.

The students will also be active in their respective host communities, working with youth at-risk and running workshops for the parents of high school dropouts.

During the same time frame, 20 students will meet with local rabbis, educators and communal leaders in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas, Texas in an effort to gain a better understanding of the unique challenges faced by these diverse Jewish communities. 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 and Dallas Federations and Jewish community members employed by NASA.

“It is exciting to see that true partnerships are developing between Yeshiva University and communities around the world,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “As much as it is important to us that our students take part in these missions to expand their world views and hone their leadership skills, Jewish communities anxiously await our annual winter visits, seeing them as opportunities to involve our students in their supplemental education programming and Jewish identity and community building projects.

“Israeli municipalities allow us to completely take over the curriculum in their schools for a full week and lay leaders of North American Jewish communities vie for the next spot in our programming schedules because they all realize the added benefits of establishing and deepening their relationships with Yeshiva University and our up-and-coming communal stars.”

Beginning on January 13, students on two humanitarian missions in Mexico and Nicaragua will explore the relationship between social justice, service and Judaism. In Mexico, 16 students will collaborate with Hombre Sobre La Tierra (HST- Humankind on Earth), a local non-profit organization that works within the Mayan community to promote environmental sustainability, advance the integration of women in the economy and strengthen the capacity of grassroots groups. Continuing the work of previous student visits, the group will assist with a variety of projects, including farming and harvesting in local private and public gardens, building pools for aquaculture development and contributing to the community’s ecotourism project.

In Nicaragua, another 16 participants will volunteer with Servicios Médicos Comunales (SMC), an NGO that promotes community-based sustainable development in the southwestern district of San Juan del Sur. An outgrowth of SMC’s educational programming, the students will assist with the construction of a public library, a project started by previous CJF winter mission participants.

“Following a strong, multi-faceted student-led Hurricane Sandy relief effort, our students are energized and excited to pick up where they left off, exercising their hearts and bodies as they work to empower individuals and transform communities,” said Aliza Abrams, assistant director of CJF’s Department of Service Learning and Experiential Education, and the staffer who guided the massive relief effort in New York and New Jersey.

“While pitching in to repair these corners of the world, 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.”

As in the past, the CJF winter missions are run with support from and in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation, Repair the World and the American Jewish World Service.


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