Students met leaders of Hillel’s five alternative break trips Thursday night. Mia Carmel (center-right) is co-leading a trip to Atlanta, which explores issues in women’s health through a Jewish lens. Dan Novak/Mitzpeh.

By Dan Novak
For Mitzpeh

Organizers of Maryland Hillel’s Alternative Break trips met with interested students over ice cream Thursday to recruit and discuss the trips before the application deadline this Sunday.

For Jewish students looking to spend their vacations engaging in something more meaningful than partying, Hillel is offering five service-oriented Alternative Break trips this academic year, each focused on exploring a different policy  issue.

Students have the choice of Baltimore (urban renewal), Guatemala (environmental sustainability), Chicago (inequality in education), New Orleans (the criminal justice system) or Atlanta (women’s health) as destinations. The trips to Baltimore and Guatemala will be this fall and winter, respectively, while the remaining three will be over spring break the third week of March.

Maddie Schaeffer, a senior public policy major and co-leader of the Chicago trip, said that two upperclassmen organize each of the trips as a part of their Alternative Break Fellowship, a position for which they applied last spring. The fellows conceived the Alternative Break locations and topics themselves and submitted proposals for approval to Hillel Director of Student Life MJ Kurs-Lasky. While the spring break trips remain in the early planning stages, “now we’re just focused on recruitment and getting as many people to join the trips as possible,” Schaeffer said.

Ali Dorn, a senior business major, and Daniel Givner, a senior physiology major, said that Alternative Breaks offer opportunities for students to learn about important issues, help communities in need and return home with a renewed perspective about the world. Dorn and Givner will be taking a group to Guatemala.

“This one week trip is a very brief time period, so you’re definitely not changing the entire world,” Givner said.  “But the whole goal of the week is trying to raise awareness and give a firsthand experience of what’s going on and really help people.”

Givner added that the trips follow the Jewish values of volunteerism and service.  “A big part of Judaism is the sense of community and giving back and treating someone else how you want to be treated,” he said.

Aside from Hillel, the Stamp Student Union offers 27 Alternative Break trips through the winter, spring and summer breaks. Schaeffer said that she went on a trip through Alternative Breaks as a freshman, but likes how the Hillel trips allow her to meet Jews of different backgrounds all interested in the same topic.

“Orthodox students, non-Orthodox students, people who are really involved with Hillel, people who have never set foot in Hillel; all identifying as Jewish and interested in a topic they all have different education levels on,” she said.  “There’s a lot of different reasons to go on the trip.”

Indeed, sophomore public policy and American studies major Chloe Dinman said she is considering signing up because the trips cater to her academic interests, as well as provide a chance to volunteer and make friends.

Interested students can apply here before the application period closes this Sunday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m.


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