Undelivered cell phone kerfuffles did not hinder the important in-person conversations with HUC-JIR students. On our January Tikkun Olam and Solidarity Mission in Israel, CCAR incoming VP for Program, Debbie Bravo, co-chair Ariana Silverman, and I engaged with Jerusalem HUC-JIR students about their hopes for their careers and how CCAR supports them. They are excited to access our lifelong learning resources and opportunities for chevruta.
For some, these contacts have begun with relationships with many of you who have taught them, inspired them, mentored them and encouraged them in their rabbinic journeys. Indeed, on one side of Debbie Bravo sat a young man she knows from NFTY GER and on the other side sat a young woman she met as a unit head at Harlam.
I look forward to meeting them again on their respective stateside campuses over the next four years as each member of the CCAR rabbinic staff generally meets with almost each class, on each campus, each year, making approximately 20-25 times conversations over the course of each student’s seminary time. When possible, CCAR leadership volunteers also spend time with students. Over the course of these years our student members receive an orientation to CCAR and most importantly we develop personal relationships with each of them. In addition their student memberships enable them to access our teleconferences, webinars, newsletters as well as Convention. L’hitraot often in the years ahead.
Wednesday, by Rabbi Danny Gottlieb
Yesterday afternoon we visited one of the 14 student villages built by the Ayalim Foundation, which was established 10 years ago by five young people in memory of two friends who had been murdered in a terrorist incident. The mission of the foundation is to build student villages as part of a larger plan to create communities in places that need them, such as deserted or difficult neighborhoods. The students who live in the villages, in return for subsidized accommodations, accept an obligation to volunteer in the local community in a variety of ways that serve to strengthen the social fabric and the educational standard of the community. They tutor children after school, support learning disabled children, provide after school activities and social programs, as well as being role models for the children in the neighborhood.
The village we visited, just south of Beersheva, was home to about 80 students of the Ben Gurion University. The students volunteer for 8 hours a week in the local community, as well as one Friday a month when they help to clean up the neighborhood. And also, during the Pesach and summer semester breaks, they volunteer to build the village. You see, the village, which began with a single pre-fab building, has been expanded into a complete village, with 40 apartments, a student center, moadon and public square, all of which have been built by the students themselves (under the supervision of a construction foreman, of course…) A small alumni village exists alongside the student village, and there are plans to expand the alumni village. Financial support comes from a combination of private philanthropy, federation support and government grants.
In its 10 years of existence the Foundation has seen over 6000 students through its program. These students have touched the lives of more than 25,000 children in the communities of which the 14 villages are a part. At present, there are 5000 applications for 800 available spaces for next year.
The other part of the Ayalim Foundation’s mission is to assist in the development of the Negev Region, which is seen as both the fulfillment of David Ben Gurion’s dream and the key to the future development of the State of Israel. The Negev has vast land and solar resources, and is the center for cutting-edge research in conservation, eco-system and energy sustainability. The idea is that if the students build the village and help to develop the local community themselves, they will feel a part of the community and they will choose to stay in the region. And according to Danielle, a 22 year-old student from Jerusalem, it is likely that she will do just that.
The Ayalim Foundation belief is not that “if you build it, they will come” rather, “if they build it, they will stay!”
Rabbi Danny Gottlieb is the Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco, CA. He is currently participating on the CCAR Solidarity and Social Action MIssion to Israel, part of the CCAR Leadership Travel series.