Students from the Heshe & Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus program meet New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine at the Kotel in Jerusalem.
Photo courtesy Orthodox Union
August 21, 2008
Seven New Jersey college students spent July in Israel on a program designed to apply the Jewish values of social responsibility, social justice, hesed, and tikun olam.
Shlomo Weprin and Ashley Small of West Orange, Danielle Winter and Eliezer Weiss of Highland Park, Miriam Leichtman of Edison, Lauren Silver of East Brunswick, and Joey Kolatch of Englewood — along with 20 other students from across the country — were assigned to projects as part of the Orthodox Union’s Heshe & Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus.
Each participant in the fellowship was given a hesed project to work on throughout the one-month program.
‘I felt really good about being able to further the growth of one of the most amazing institutions.’
Shlomo Weprin and Danielle Winter work on their video for Yad Sarah.
Photo courtesy Yad Sarah
In the mornings, the students attended classes on leadership values and qualities; in the afternoons, they did hands-on work, applying those skills. Weprin and Winter were assigned to Yad Sarah, a volunteer organization that provides a wide spectrum of health and home care support services for people of all ages through its network of 100-plus branches.
As their project, Weprin and Winter made a fund-raising film about Yad Sarah, so that donors overseas “can know what their money is going to,” said Winter. They were well-suited to their task: Winter is an American Studies major at Rutgers University, where she also helps out at the film co-op; Weprin studies film, television, and animation at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.
At Yad Sarah, the two spent time exploring the facility and following tour groups to collect footage for their video, which they then edited and polished. Winter said Yad Sarah’s success in saving the Israeli government funds through its social services is “amazing.”
“The last and biggest project we are working on is a video of all the groups that come in to Yad Sarah, explaining what the groups that come in do during their meaningful visit,” said Weprin in an e-mail from Israel, adding that he was able to use his talents “to help an extremely meaningful and inspirational institution.”
“At first it seemed to me that videotaping groups cleaning wheelchairs wasn’t as helpful and impactful as the work others were doing on my program,” said Weprin. “However, once I was able to hear what the kids told us about the way they felt about their experience I began to realize the importance of documenting the groups.”
“What made the biggest impact on me,” said Weprin, “was knowing all this is done as a service for people, for free – I just thought that was phenomenal.”
As foreigners and documentarians, Weprin and Winter were able to present unbiased views. “Our supervisor at Yad Sarah told us we had captured parts of the organization and emotions that had never been captured before,” said Weprin. “I felt really good about being able to further the growth of one of the most amazing institutions I have ever heard of, ever seen.”
Winter got involved with JLIC quite by chance. She attended a Sabbath lunch at Rutgers Hillel, when Shoshana Porath, JLIC representative at Rutgers along with her husband the Hillel’s Rabbi Yisroel Porath, approached her and said, “Do you want to spend the summer in Israel?” Winter replied, “Tell me more.”
Winter said she thought participating in JLIC would help her bond with a “part of Judaism that I hadn’t connected with yet.”
Ashley Small, front row, far left, with other JLIC fellows, from left, Aden Ratner-Stauber, Ronit Stern; and, back row, Caroline Trencher and Joey Kolatch.
Photo courtesy Andrew Gindea
Talking to NJJN after the experience, Winter said she came to realize how different her perspective was compared to that of other Jews, especially Israelis.
“This whole experience makes you learn to appreciate life so much more,” she said. “An 18-year-old in America is worrying about what dress to wear to the next party, but in Israel an 18-year-old is worried about their country and going to the army.”
Small, who attends New York University, was assigned to OneFamily Fund, an organization that provides support and aid to victims of terror. She helped an impoverished family with many children whose mother was injured in a bus bombing and suffers from a loss of hearing, numbness in her leg, and back pain. Small cared for the two youngest children, five- and six-year-old boys, for the month. “It was great to integrate the hesed we learned about” in the JLIC classes, Small said.
She was also moved by Shabbat experiences she had. “Davening on Friday night from Netiv Aryeh — a boys’ seminary — looking out over the Kotel, was really beautiful,” she said.
Silver participated in JLIC after spending a year in Israel, an experience, she said, that “instilled a need to go back to the country.” Her hesed project was working for Yad LaKashish, Lifeline for the Old, an organization that trains elderly or disabled residents of Jerusalem — many of them immigrants — to be productive members of society. She organized merchandise in the gift shop, which the clients produced, to benefit the “very important organization,” said Silver.
“They have over 300 artisans working for them in the morning,” said the Rutgers student. The clients’ artwork is sold in the gift shop, Silver explained, and they receive a stipend for their work as well as other benefits, among them “a free bus pass, one hot meal per day, and dental and eyeglass allowances….”
Since Silver had been working in the afternoons, doing organizing and office work, she said, “I didn’t feel like I was directly making a difference.” As a result, she requested to learn in a seminary three times a week and work at Yad LaKashish once a week. “I really enjoyed walking back from my seminary — in Har Nof in Jerusalem — back to the Old City,” said Silver. “It took over an hour, but I wanted the exercise. What I liked about it most was the time to digest my learning from both programs and reflect on it, all while getting to walk on holy soil. It was a pleasure.”
Weiss, also a Rutgers student, worked at Itim: The Jewish Life Information Center, whose aim is to make “Jewish life accessible to all.”
Weiss said that working there gave him a greater appreciation of people who are sometimes “willing to go through the arduous process” of becoming “part of the Jewish community….” He was also impressed with Itim’s staff, who, he said, “give endlessly of their time, advocating in the rabbinate for the people they are helping [become] fully integrated into the Jewish society.”
Rutgers student Leichtman and NYU student Kolatch were also assigned by JLIC to OneFamily Fund.