While many college students gear up for spring break excursions involving beachwear and partying, UCLA senior Rachel Barton is preparing for a service-based trip to Israel. Barton will visit Israel next week from March 22-27, on a trip created by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) that aims to get young people involved in development there.
The trip, aptly titled Alternative Spring Break (ASB), finds college students and young adults working on JNF’s “Blueprint Negev” campaign to sustainably develop the Negev Desert, an arid area that comprises much of the land mass of Israel but is largely uninhabitable due to dry conditions.
Participants are responsible for raising a minimum of $975 before going on the trip. Once the fundraising minimum is met, the program is free, paid for by JNF donors, with the exception of round-trip airfare. The trip is open to any Jewish young adult between the ages of 18 – 30. The first 300 applicants to meet the fundraising goal are selected to take the trip.
The ASB trip, said Barton, is a much more appealing vacation than the typical spring break excursion.
“As much as it would be fun to go on a cruise or on some other trip with friends, this is something that is so unique and I think I will create stronger memories on this trip than if I were just going on a trip to the beach,” Barton said.
Barton will work with a group of 40 Jewish young adults from all over the country and she looks forward to making new friends. She has taken two trips to Israel in her life and she said she has been thinking about a return trip for the last few years.
“I spent so much of my life learning about Jewish history, and when you go to Israel you really get that physical connection to what you have learned,” Barton said. “I grew up in a reasonably sized Jewish community in San Diego, so I am really in touch with the culture. But it is really special to be in a place where everyone shares your beliefs.”
Since 2006, nearly 800 participants have been on the ASB trip. The students’ days are filled with work, such as laying bricks and building playgrounds, and the nights are spent viewing live entertainment, listening to music and having fun. The groups will also hear from environmental experts and scholars to better understand the complexities of the region.
A significant part of the ASB program is the educational curriculum, designed to complement the service work by providing an opportunity to explore Jewish insights and personal reflections on the service experience. Time is set aside each day for a discussion, reflection and learning.
Although U.S./Israel relations have been shaken lately by Israel’s announcement to expand settlements in East Jerusalem for housing of the Jewish population in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods – an announcement that was made during Vice President Joseph Biden’s trip to Israel – JNF spokesperson Jodi Bodner said the ASB program is not impacted by those events.
“It is a non-issue in terms of our work,” Bodner said. “We are not a political group and we really stay out of those conversations. Everything we do is in support of the land and all the people of Israel.”
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