Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spending spring break doing community service in Israel was 'magical'

JNF's Alternative Spring Break program gives young adults, ages 18-30, a chance to spend a week doing community service in Israel. Here, one recent participant shares her experience. 

By Jessica Peden

For many, spring break is a week of relaxation. To some, it means a lot of partying. This spring break, I joined 50 other college students who decided to do something a little different. We set off to Israel to volunteer.

The first night we ate dinner at Kibbutz Shomrat, our new home for the majority of the week, and played some ice breakers. We made a giant circle on the lawn and sat and shmoozed, giving us time to get to know one another before the week of hard work began. 

Each day that followed was filled with incredible new experiences. Every time we got to our new location, we were assigned our task, and it often felt too big a project for us to accomplish in such a short amount of time. I, for one, am not someone who normally works outside and I was given a saw and told to start sawing away. It took me a good minute to figure out what exactly I was doing but once I did, I was really good at it!

Throughout the week we started to become more confident when we were handed tools and told to tackle an assignment. It was so amazing to think back to the morning and see what exactly we accomplished. As a Jew, volunteering and taking time to help others are concepts instilled from a young age. They are a basis of who we are as a people.

One of my first thoughts on Alternative Spring Break was, "How am I going to make any difference? I am only one person." I then began to think about our group as a whole. Change doesn’t happen overnight and even with 26 of us, I still had doubts. Maybe we were only going to put a small dent in these people's lives, but the truth was we had a bigger impact than any of us thought. The gratitude in the faces of the people we were helping was visible. For some, having someone to just listen and try to understand can be a huge comfort, but to have 26 people come in and physically work is something else entirely.

I cannot put into words how magical this trip was. I got to meet so many people and learn so much from them too. I live in a place where there are not many Jews, so being able to spend an entire week with other Jewish young adults was awesome. I felt so comfortable with everyone and I was able to walk around with my guard down. The trip was an experience that I will definitely tell other people about in hopes they too will take on this challenge of sacrificing their time to help others. 

This ASB trip was a collection of people from different spectrums of Judaism, and even non-Jews. Together we thanked those non-Jews for really having the chutzpah to get on a plane and travel across the world to work with people they didn’t know. At the airport we said goodbye to new friends. It was sad, but we were grateful for our new friendships. We were all able to come together and really make a difference in other's lives and even in our own. We came out with a new sense of thinking and personal value. Change does not happen overnight; it requires small steps like alternative break. Who knows who will come back next year? Together anything is possible. 

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