College students volunteer in Israel on ‘Alternative Break’

The students supported families affected by the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks while learning about Israel's resiliency and strength.

Students on the Jewish National Fund-USA “Alternative Break” trip to Israel. Credit: Courtesy.
Students on the Jewish National Fund-USA “Alternative Break” trip to Israel. Credit: Courtesy.

When asking college students about their summer plans, many will talk about internships or jobs, extra classes they’re taking or a nice vacation they’ve scheduled. A group of nearly 100 college students from around the country, however, have started out the summer very differently. They volunteered for the Jewish National Fund-USA’s “Alternative Break,” where they support families in southern Israel affected by the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, while also ensuring that the land and people of Israel can strive towards a brighter future.

College students plant flowers and shrubs to bring beauty back to areas hard-hit by the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the Jewish National Fund-USA.

During the weeklong trip, students traveled all throughout Israel—repairing houses damaged by missiles, beautifying and rebuilding communities in Israel’s south, working on farms in the Negev Desert, and making food packages for Israeli soldiers and civilians affected by the war. No matter where they went, the students left knowing they had made the area a better place.

“Jewish National Fund-USA’s Alternative Break was an incredible opportunity to connect with new friends, the land of Israel, and those who live there,” said Leah Cherson, a student at Binghamton University. “The meaning that I found in our volunteer work is beyond words. From farming to rebuilding neighborhoods, we saw all sides of the Israeli experience. I was lucky to have participated in such an incredible program.”

Participants also got a firsthand look at both the heartbreak and resilience Israelis have experienced since the onset of the war through this immersive educational program. The students visited “Hostages Square” in Tel Aviv, speaking with family members who shared personal stories of loved ones captured by Hamas. They attended a memorial ceremony at the site of the Nova Music Festival massacre in the south. They also went to Soroka Hospital and learned how the facility handled the influx of wounded patients post-Oct. 7.

Even through the heartbreak, the spirit of Israel shone through. “I’ve been to Israel many times over the last couple of years, and I think this is the most alive the country has ever felt, which is surprising given the incredible amount of adversity and hardship this community has endured,” said University of Colorado student Jake Stone in an interview with ILTV. “If there’s ever a time to come to Israel and help, it’s now.”

College students participating in the “Alternative Break” program take a break from food packing during their Israel trip. Credit: Courtesy of Jewish National Fund-USA.

In a few months, and for some even sooner, the students will return to their college campuses, an environment that has become increasingly hostile towards Jewish and pro-Israel students. However, thanks to Alternative Break, they feel more prepared to engage in dialogue about Israel and stand up to Jew-hatred.

“One of the best things we can do is go back to our campuses and be the pro-Israel and Zionist leaders that our campuses need,” said Bali Levine, who attends Tulane University in New Orleans. “Being surrounded by this great group has really inspired me to continue my activism and fight for the Jewish people.”

As the largest provider of Zionist education, Jewish National Fund-USA offers a plethora of programming and tools for college students, from educational trips to Israel and bringing speakers to campuses, to the new college campus resources page to help students report antisemitism on their campus. Students are also invited to the organization’s College Summit this November at the Global Conference for Israel (jnf.org/gc).

To learn more or to join a volunteer mission in Israel, visit: jnf.org/volunteeril.

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Jewish National Fund-USA builds a strong, vibrant future for the land and people of Israel through bold initiatives and Zionist education. As a leading philanthropic movement, the organization supports critical environmental and nation-building activities in Israel’s north and south as it develops new communities in the Negev and Galilee, connects the next generation to Israel, and creates infrastructure and programs that support ecology, people with disabilities, and heritage site preservation, all while running a fully accredited study abroad experience through its Alexander Muss High School in Israel.
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