The Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and Minnesota Hillel, through Partnership2Gether, sent a group of college students to Israel over spring break this March for an “alternative spring break” of volunteering and learning.
A much richer experience than a typical Birthright or tourist-oriented visit to Israel, Alternative Spring Break offers students the opportunity to see Israel “off the beaten path,” providing immersive experiences interacting with Israelis from all walks of life.
This is a wonderful example of how what we do gives our community a richer and more beneficial understanding of our people and our connection to the land and the modern nation of Israel—and perhaps even a greater Jewish self-awareness. In fact, students report feeling a strong sense of connection to and pride in their community and to Israel after experiences like this.
Alternative spring break is a week full of life-changing moments; here’s a taste from 2017 participant Eli Singer.
On Tuesday, we drove into South Tel Aviv, a slum located within the “party city” that we all know and love. There we learned about Elifelet, an organization providing nursery school and childcare to Sudanese and Eritrean refugee children. These families come to South Tel Aviv as undocumented workers to escape persecution in their own countries.
After learning about the organization, we went to a dingy, second-story apartment housing one of the nurseries. There, we were each paired with a child to play with at a park across the street. I was paired with a boy named Yafet who was incredibly energetic and intelligent and the oldest boy of the group.
It was hard to see their living conditions, but we could tell that even taking these kids out for an hour totally changed their moods and allowed them to forget about their extremely difficult lives and just be kids.
This trip has meant so much—it exposed me to what Israel is actually like. While Birthright shows tourists the best and most famous aspects of the country, this trip allowed me to see that the country I thought to be nearly perfect actually has many real flaws and issues. It was absolutely inspiring to learn about these issues and see the organizations and individuals striving to make them better.