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<p>These Hillel students participated in Kent State's alternative break in coordination with City Year, a national service organization. The event marked the first large-scale partnership between a Jewish and secular national service organization.</p>
Students learn from community service projects in at-risk youth communities.

“Alternate” Winter Break Effort

Rebecca Meiser
Eight students from Hillel at Kent State spent their winter break volunteering in Los Angeles, doing community service and providing assistance to at-risk youth communities. The trip was organized by Hillel at Kent State with support from Hillel International.

“In Hebrew, the word for ‘charity’ is tzedakah,” Jennifer Chestnut, the executive director of Hillel at Kent State, says. “But tzedakah is more than charity. It’s a duty to involve oneself in social justice and to help repair what’s wrong in the world. I’m proud that these are the values our students chose to practice during their winter break.”

While many students spent their winter break tanning on Mexican beaches, these students — in coordination with Hillel undergraduates from six other universities across the country —spent their time refurbishing the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Monica and the YMCA of Palisades. They repainted walls, built cubbies and constructed an outdoor amphitheater in the backyard of the YMCA. For many students, it was the first time they had ever held a hammer.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Kent State freshman Evan Oppenhem of Erie, Pa., says. “I learned a lot about the community — and about myself.” 

The week-long community service initiative was a joint venture between Hillel and City Year, a national service organization. The event marked the first large-scale partnership between a Jewish and a secular national service organization. “We are honored to partner with Hillel to help young people act on their values of social justice and common concern to improve the lives of others — and gain a powerful life experience in the process,” City Year CEO and co-founder Michael Brown says. “By spending their winter breaks dedicated to service, these students are setting an impressive example for others.”

After working all day, the students continued the learning experiences past sunset. At night, students talked with education activists about the state of public school systems in California and speakers from Jewish World Watch, an LA-based international humanitarian organization focusing on human rights abuses in the Congo.

“The trip had a huge impact on my view of the world,” junior Lindsey Ryb of Lyndhurst says. “I learned that it’s my responsibility, as a Jew and a human, to respond and act out against suffering — wherever in the world it might be happening.”

Now that the students have returned to campus, they are continuing to build on their California experiences. Hillel students are planning fundraising benefits for the victims of Haiti and the Congo and organizing other volunteer efforts at home.

“I want to raise awareness of the issues that are happening in the world and in the inner cities,” Victor Newman, a junior from Beachwood, says. “As a group, we have a lot more power than we realize. When we come together with a common goal, we can do amazing things.”

 The largest Jewish campus organization in the world, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life is committed to creatively empowering and engaging Jewish students through its network of more than 500 campus Foundations, Program Centers and affiliates. Its long-standing dedication to building Jewish identity, while nurturing intellectual and spiritual growth in a pluralistic community, positions Hillel as a leader in building a stronger Jewish people and stronger Jewish future.

For more information, visit www.kenthillel.org.