Thirty-five college students, including Pittsburgher and Yeshiva University student Aryeh Wasserman, son of Rabbi Daniel Wasserman, left for a mission to Israel this week, despite the turbulence currently facing the Jewish state.
“Project Connect: Israel Winter Mission” is a one-week interactive learning and community service program, intended to expose students to cultural groups that have immigrated to Israel since its establishment in 1948.
The students were chosen from a pool of more than 150 applicants to attend the program, which is run under the auspices of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, and is funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
Participants in the program are meeting with families and individuals from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, exploring some of the socio-economic absorption challenges faced by these communities, and learning about their cultural and historical heritages.
The program includes daily service projects and sessions with public figures and immigration experts, giving the students an in-depth look at the immigration process.
Because of the outbreak of the war in Gaza, some of the originally planned activities were replaced with others in order to provide opportunities for the students to lend support to the IDF. For example, the students met with the Tzofim Youth Movement in Be’er Yaakov to help assemble packages for the soldiers together with Ethiopian teens.
The students also traveled to the Tzrifin Army Base, near Rechovot, to help assemble packages for the soldiers together with the women of SELAH, a network of volunteers that provides aid to immigrants coping with unexpected tragedy. The directors and creators of SELAH were present at the base to lead discussions on their willingness to be in Israel during “wartime,” and how the war affects their image of Israel and their ability to develop as Jews and form their Jewish identities.
Five students from Jerusalem’s Ma’ale School of Television, Film and the Arts are traveling with the group to document their interactions with the immigrant communities. The footage will be edited into a film that the students will be able to view on the final night of their trip, and will also be screened in February at Yeshiva University.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)