College Park, MD: Spring break is often thought of in purely hedonistic terms: the beaches of Florida or Acapulco, parties, late nights, dancing and letting your hair down. This image is quickly being challenged by the growing popularity of “Alternative Spring Breaks” (ASBs). Alternative Spring Breaks provide students with the opportunity to travel to diverse and sometimes exotic locations, and immerse themselves in volunteer activities that address a particular social issue.
This year Maryland Hillel, a non-profit organization located on the University of Maryland campus, has embarked on a bold new initiative to expand Alternative Break offerings. A core group of eight student leaders has been recruited to undergo extensive training in areas of social justice, leadership, informal education, and cultural tolerance. The students meet every week for two hours, over a period of 10 weeks, and are treated to speakers like Saul Garlick, the Executive Director of the Student Movement For Real Change.
This cohort of students working in concert with the Maryland Hillel staff is responsible for planning and executing Maryland Hillel’s Alternative Breaks. Last year Maryland Hillel took fifty-six students to New Orleans and Brazil. This year, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Hillel staff and these student leaders, 124 students will travel to Mexico, Uruguay, Los Angeles, Tampa, New Orleans, and the Negev Desert.
Ari Israel, Executive Director of Maryland Hillel, said of the growing trend toward ASBs, “Globalization has made it practically impossible for people to live in a vacuum. As students become increasingly aware of social problems other communities face, there is a natural empathy and desire to help. ASBs provide the opportunity to combine some of the fun one expects from a spring break and assist others.”
Amy Weiss, Hillel’s Assistant Director of Student Life, seconded these comments. Amy, who has met with every one of the applicants to the program said, “I find students genuinely want to assist the less fortunate. They are increasingly conscious of their privileged position within society and want to use that position to aid others.” Mrs. Weiss is also quick to indicate that ASBs are not purely altruistic, “These experiences provide students with a fantastic travel opportunity, and they grow and develop as global citizens during these encounters.”
Maryland Hillel’s expanded Alternative Break Program has been made possible by The United Jewish Endowment Fund of Greater Washington, The Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund, The Grandchildren of Harvey and Lyn Meyerhoff Fund, and a grant from Hillel International.
For more details about the program visit www.marylandhillel.org/asb.