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By Clarice Silber
Maryland Hillel’s alternative winter break program will return this winter and take students on trips to Las Vegas, Israel, Ethiopia, and for the first time, Oklahoma City.
Hillel’s alternative winter break programs are designed to give students the opportunity to partake in community service trips in, and outside of the U.S. Every service trip includes student fellows that act as leaders of the program, as well as a Hillel staff member that provides any necessary support.
“What I love the most about AWB programs is that they combine community service and volunteer work, cultural awareness, and relationship building,” said Zoe Klein, a co-fellow on the upcoming service trip to Ethiopia. Klein, who partook in the Ethiopia trip offered last year, said that the group will most likely engage in some type of manual labor.
Amy Weiss, the director of the alternative breaks program, said that the fellows work hard to put together the service trips. “We take a deep approach with the trip leaders. They do a lot of engagement on campus and dig deep into their personal networks,” Weiss said.
Prior to the service trips, fellows are responsible for recruiting students, overseeing the itinerary, and conducting orientation sessions with participants. According to Weiss this is the sixth running year of the alternative break fellowship program.
This year also marks the third year that Hillel is partnering with the organization Yahel. The program will bring students to do community service with one of many Ethiopian communities residing in Israel.
“I’ve been to Israel several times but this trip was different in that it is not focused on touring Israel but rather influencing social change in communities that are often overlooked,” said Ariel Gleaner, a sophomore kinesiology major who will partake in this year’s service trip to Israel. Gleaner explained that the program stood out to her.
According to Max Cohen, a fellow leading the service trip in Las Vegas, going on alternative winter break trips is great opportunity for learning and stepping outside one’s personal comfort zone.
The Las Vegas service trip is geared towards doing a number of different projects throughout the week. Some activities include tutoring children through the 100 Academy of Excellence program, preparing meals for students that cannot access healthy food options at school or over the weekends, and revitalizing downtown Las Vegas.
Like Cohen, Klein also strongly recommends the service trips to other students. “I would recommend any and all students to partake in one because they really open your eyes to the need for social change in our world and allow you to get involved in an organized fashion,” Klein explained.
Gleaner said that what most excited her was the opportunity to work interactively with other students. “I am most excited about the group of people on the trip. It is made up of people with all different Jewish backgrounds and also some non-Jewish participants. I look forward to being surrounded by different perspectives,” said Gleaner.
“For me, it is an awesome, meaningful way to explore and expand my Jewish identity,” Cohen said.