American college students have countless vacation opportunities awaiting them during their semester vacation, but this year 120 Jewish students opted to forgo the parties and relaxation, choosing instead to help rehabilitate Israel's north after the war in Lebanon; planting trees and fixing up bomb shelters.
Students painting a bomb shelter in Mevo'ot Hermon (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
In order to be accepted into the project each youth was required to raise $800 in donations, with some even raising sums of up to $10,000. In all, the group brought $200,000 to Israel with them.
The group is joined by an MTV television crew producing a series on American youths spending their vacations volunteering around the world.
'Part of that tight connection'"We heard a lot about the bomb shelters and their conditions, and about cases in which people were evacuated from their homes," said Brat Goldman, 21, of Philadelphia.
"We saw pictures of damage and fire and I decided to volunteer for the project. I raised about $1,000 from friends and people who pray at my synagogue, and I came to Israel with a clear goal of helping rehabilitate the north.
"I know there are many young people who understand the importance of strengthening the connection between US Jews and Israeli Jews. I think this is part of that tight connection."
According to Dr Bentzi Bar-Lavi, director of the JNF's education department, "Instead of going on holiday to South America or Europe, these young people have chosen to raise funds and come to Israel to help rehabilitate forests and take care of bomb shelters. Our education department will do everything so that the moments and experiences these young people have here during the week will also turn into significant moments in their lives."
Officials at the JNF said that the organization had received tens of thousands of calls from civilians asking to help in rehabilitating the forests. About 20,000 people, including schoolchildren and students, have already taken part in pruning, planting and cleaning areas in the JNF forest destroyed in the recent war.
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler said that "these young people prove that pioneership still exists among youth in the Diaspora. This project is part of the JNF's activity to bring young people closer to the values of Zionism and love of the land."