On Spring Break: Alternative Trips

By Juliet Lapidos

Published April 27, 2007, issue of April 27, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The words “spring” and “break,” innocuous when separate, become volatile when joined together. “Spring break” typically evokes the Bahamas and the debauchery of Girls Gone Wild. In the past few years, however, a new spring break movement has been gaining traction. Most noticeably since Hurricane Katrina, college students have organized alternative spring break trips that emphasize community service and multicultural understanding.

During February, March and part of April, six campus Hillel foundations have promoted this alternative tradition by organizing interfaith trips to New Orleans. About 200 Jewish, Christian and Muslim students from the University at Albany, the University of Southern California, New York University, California State University Northridge, and Yale and Columbia universities used their college vacations to help rebuild the hurricane-devastated city. Each campus Hillel determined program specifics independent of the national office in Washington, D.C., so no two trips were exactly alike. Yet the assumption behind each trip was the same: Communal work facilitates inter-community dialogue. By all accounts, that assumption was proved true.

Megan Goldman, a Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow who organized the Yale trip, said that many students were at first too shy to discuss their personal religious views. After a few days of manual labor, however, they opened up. For the final night of the trip, Goldman planned a brief question-and-answer session during which each student would describe his or her approach to faith and then field questions. “I figured it would take about 45 minutes,” she said, “but I was way off. The questions were really in depth, so we talked late into the night and then resumed the session early the next morning.” As a result of positive feedback from students, Goldman said, Yale Hillel is trying to amass a permanent budget for an annual interfaith service trip.

The NYU trip had two components: During the course of a month, students met once a week for a “learning program” and then traveled to New Orleans to engage in relief work. Erica Dobin, an NYU sophomore, said that the trip participants eased into discussions about the Middle East slowly. “During the learning program,” Dobin recalled, “no one spoke much. After a couple days in New Orleans, we talked about the hurricane, racial politics and the government’s response to the hurricane. Then we felt comfortable enough to talk about Israel.”

“It know it sounds funny,” Dobin added, “but after you’ve put up drywall with someone, you come to respect them, and suddenly it’s not so hard to talk about serious issues.”

Sam Kretzman, special programs coordinator for NYU’s Edgar M. Bronfman Center, thinks the New Orleans trip will improve Muslim-Jewish relations at the university significantly. “There wasn’t really any negative energy between the two groups before the trip,” he said, “but there wasn’t much communication, either. That’s changing now.”

“In New Orleans,” Kretzman said, “we discussed the fact that the Muslim chaplaincy [at NYU] is more or less a volunteer position. Now that all the students are back, they’re trying to make the position permanent by writing letters to [NYU President] John Sexton.”

According to Jeff Rubin, Hillel’s associate vice president of communications, Hillel will have supported more than 1,600 students in their rebuilding efforts by the summer. Last year, Hillel students constituted the largest volunteer force in the Gulf, with 800 participants working in New Orleans and in Biloxi, Miss. Juliet Lapidos is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.