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Jewish students learn the meaning of caring for humanity

MONTREAL – For the 21-year-old president of Hillel at Concordia University participating in the annual “alternative spring break” last year was a life-changing experience.

That’s why Evara David and her colleagues are pushing ahead with a Battle of the Bands fundraiser to ensure that these type of programs continue.

The Battle of the Bands will take place on Thursday, Feb. 2, 8:30 p.m., at Club Lambi (4465 Boulevard Saint-Laurent) in Montreal. Hillel Concordia is organizing the event. All proceeds will go towards purchasing building materials for a Hillel envoy to bring to Ghana. Four bands – The Spitfire Nines, the Smokin’ Darts, the Rocket Alarms and Ill City Lights – will battle it out on stage, each playing a set of originals plus an appropriate cover.

Groups like New York-based American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and Jewish Funds for Justice (JFJ) coordinate these “alternative spring breaks,” 7-day to 10-day international service-learning programs for university students. Participants promote social change in the developing world by volunteering with grassroots partners and explore the relationship between social justice, service and Judaism.

Last year, Hillel Montreal sent a few envoys to Miami, Nicaragua and the poor areas of Los Angeles.

“On each trip the candidates worked with different grassroots organizations – some Jewish and others not – such as soup kitchens and urban farms,” David explained. “This year, one of the trips will be going to Ghana. While participants are responsible for paying their own way, albeit subsidized, they still have to raise money to buy building materials. This is where our Battle of the Bands come in.”

David said that Concordia has provided them with a budget, enabling all proceeds from the ticket sales and potentially a bake sale on-site to go directly towards the materials that will be needed to build schools in Ghana by the Hillel volunteers over spring break.

“I can speak on a personal experience with regard to the benefits of these trips,” said David, who was part of the LA entourage. “I think we can all agree on the value of helping all of mankind, especially in these tumultuous times. Secondly, visiting places like the infamous skid row of LA was deeply emotional. When you take a kid, like myself, who has spent her entire life in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Côte Saint-Luc and put them in one of the most impoverished areas in the United States, it can be quite the realization. Growing up in a bubble, which we often do in the Jewish community, can allow us to take our good fortune for granted. Sure, we say ‘we're fortunate,’ but most of us truly don't understand what it means to be fortunate because we’ve never seen unfortunate to this extent.”

David noted that LA has a homeless population of about 80,000.

“What we noticed was that government intervention was minimal and upsetting, but we witnessed real life miracles that were manifesting within these grassroots organizations,” she said. “We spent the day in a totally self-sustaining homeless shelter, complete with doctors and legal aids that managed to turn out thousands of meals a day and yet run by a handful of people. We saw what a community, along with donations and good organization can achieve. What I witnessed on that trip will always be seared into my memory. The poverty was overwhelming but the hope and determination was astonishing and truly beautiful.

“We can’t always look at problems as relating to a specific minority, but rather as a human problem. We are Jews, but we are also human beings and as such we should help others. It’s important to watch out for these people in your community and it’s a beautiful thing to have a strong community.

“However, this is the next generation of Jewish leaders and we need to be aware of problems facing all of humanity. My experience on skid row in south LA was life changing. It changed me as a person and as a Jew. These are lessons that anyone can benefit from.”

Assaf Goldberg, the vice-president of advocacy for Hillel Concordia, believes that the envoys who go to Ghana will come back feeling very much the same way as David did. He notes that McGill Hillel is also part of the program.

Written by Mike Cohen

Date Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2012

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