Holding each other together

Holding each other together

A student describes her creative fundraising venture at NYU

Jewish NYU students are at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life as part of the 24-hour fundraiser for Israel. (All photos courtesy Benji Meppen)
Jewish NYU students are at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life as part of the 24-hour fundraiser for Israel. (All photos courtesy Benji Meppen)

I am from Teaneck; I’m a student at NYU, majoring in environmental sociology, and I have raised $16,000 in two days for humanitarian aid relief in Israel. I want to redefine what student activism can look like— and I want to share what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.

This has been a complicated week. In the unsettling wake of terror, and with much unknown on the horizon, Jewish communities in Israel are struggling for survival, while American communities are struggling to know what they can offer. Since the news began trickling in to NYU’s Bronfman Center over Simchat Torah, my immediate instinct was to get organized.

Last Sunday, that meant hosting a Tehillim circle with 25 students for songs, prayers, and a space to cope with the unease we shared at the partial knowledge of the unimaginable that we had received. My efforts have continued this week, with regular Tehillim instituted in the daily schedule, with a Unity Kumzitz consisting of 85 Jewish students, including those in the Chabad Bowery community, and regular mental-health check-ins with my peers.

I have done everything I knew how to do within this space to support the people I care about.

And still, thoughts and prayers do not always feel like enough.

A few days ago, after attending multiple Zoom shivas for loved ones of loved ones in Israel, and running into multiple students crying in the building, I could feel the sense of discouragement permeating it. I realized then that our community needs to be something beyond hopeless.

I speak for student bodies everywhere when I say that we are ready to be useful.

Immediately, an idea was born: a 24-hour service and learning fundraiser, called 24 Hours of Service, starting at midnight, where donors sponsor students in their commitment toward positive action. A day of learning, Tehillim, making cards, baking treats, handing out food at soup kitchens, knitting sweaters, hosting an empathetic listening hotline, and calling donors— with generous sponsors “paying” students for their time.

Fundraisers are tricky for college students. People come from varied backgrounds, and we would hate to have students feel that if they don’t have enough money they can’t participate. That’s where our three-pronged financial model was born.

We’ve been in touch with higher-level philanthropists and families. That’s our top tier. We have templates for students to reach out to midsize business and corporations, using listserves we’ve gotten access to through personal relationships with the sort of people who regularly do this work. That’s our middle tier. And for students for whom it is financially and politically responsible, we are asking that participants send out the donation link to their friends and family to have their hours of service and learning sponsored.

The amount of positivity that this initiative has generated is truly humbling. The staff at the Bronfman Center have been nothing short of incredible. It could not have gotten off the ground without them.

From the student end, everyone who hears about this initiative walks away in shock that something this big is happening in our very own Bronfman Center. Students are energized and ready to put their concern and care behind actionable good. The best word I have for the effect is empowerment. And from the donor end, we have raised more than $16,000 since we began.

Donors are excited about the double action their contribution can achieve: bolstering a campus community while providing on-the-ground humanitarian relief to Israel.

I truly believe this fundraiser has the potential to change what activism can look like on a college campus. While rallies and vigils have their place, we want to provide an example of what happens when we transcend the political and arrive at the pragmatic. I truly believe other Hillels will follow our example. But what I know, beyond belief, is that $16,000 already has gone to supporting our loved ones overseas who need it most — in the form of covering burial costs, providing trauma therapy, supplying quick cash to people who lost their homes, and providing meals for anybody who is hungry.

When the world falls apart, the Jewish people hold each other together.

I want people to be aware of the innovation that is happening at NYU right now. I want to share how our narrative has changed from distant ineffectuality to actionable commitment and change. And I want you to know that since our initiative went live, we are living in a different community — energized, committed, united, and ready to be of service.

I truly believe we are revolutionizing the relationship between college students and Israel. I believe our actionable commitment is inspiring donors, and, if the word got out, it could inspire a generation. I believe that these funds are going to support our previously demoralized campus community as well as providing what we can to Israel.

When this started, I was told my goal was too ambitious. I now understand that it was not ambitious enough.

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