A different kind of winter break: Helping to rebuild Israel’s north

A different kind of winter break: Helping to rebuild Israel’s north

Paramus resident Jeremy Borovitz has been to Israel many times — studying, visiting friends, and "hanging out." But this summer, when Israel was engaged in a grueling conflict with Hezbollah, he went there for a different reason. "I had to go, as a Jew and as a teenager," he said of his trip in early August. "I had to do something."

Nineteen-year-old Jeremy Borovitz said he felt "compelled" to go back to Israel to help with rebuilding efforts.

Borovitz, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, acknowledges that his parents were nervous about the trip. "I had to promise them I’d be all right," he said. "But I knew I’d regret not going, and it turned out to be the most meaningful and fascinating experience of my life." Soon the 19-year-old will head back to Israel for winter break, joining a group of 500 young Jewish adults from around the world in an effort to help rebuild northern Israel.

Called "Leading Up North," the Israel trip is the first initiative funded by the Center for Leadership Initiatives, which is funded in turn by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. During the 10-day alternative winter break, Dec. ‘7 to Jan. 4, the participants will volunteer in cities, towns, and national parks to repair damage and provide emotional support to the residents of the north. According to Lynn Schusterman, president of CLI and the family foundation, "Leading Up North will allow participants to meld community service and real actions for healing the region as they demonstrate their leadership and express their connection to Israel."

Recruitment for the trip is being done by several campus-related organizations, including Hillel: Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Borovitz, who will join a contingent of seven students from the University of Michigan, said he felt "compelled" to go back to Israel after the summer. When he heard about the new program, he applied right away.

"I had to write several essays," he said, pointing out that he wrote about previous involvement in communal activities. "My father [Neal Borovitz] is a rabbi, and he used to take me to all the rallies for Israel. He had me blow a shofar at the end of the rallies so that I would feel I had a role" in the event, he said.

Borovitz admits that most of his past breaks were spent simply as "breaks." But this time, he said, he realized that he would have plenty of time in the future to relax, but perhaps not to contribute to Israel in so meaningful a way.

"You only get so many opportunities to help," said the sophomore, noting that an "increasing minority" of students are choosing to engage in service-oriented activities over the course of their breaks.

Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel, agreed that increasing numbers of students are choosing to spend their winter and spring breaks in socially constructive activities. "This is a powerful trend, which has been growing for several years," he said.

Getraer pointed out that four Rutgers students will participate in the Leading Up North program. In addition, the Hillel is independently running a trip for 1′ Rutgers students, which will combine rebuilding activities with a week of learning in an Israeli yeshiva.

According to the Hillel director, 10 students will go to Nicaragua over spring break to help a small village there, in conjunction with the American Jewish World Service. Also over spring break, he said, about 1′ students will go to the Gulf Coast on a Hillel International-sponsored Katrina relief trip.

Recalling his son’s trip to Israel in August, Rabbi Neal Borovitz, religious leader of Temple Sholom in River Edge, said that "being nervous about my kid traveling to Israel while rockets were raining down upon cities was a natural reaction." Still, he said, "my wife and I are proud that Jeremy went this summer and that he is choosing to spend his very short winter break in Israel."

"To me," said the rabbi, "the greatest challenge facing America in general and the Jewish community in particular is to instill in young people the right and responsibility to be involved. Social action, political action, and community service need to go hand in hand. Empowering our children is as important as protecting them."

read more: