By Laura Porter
WORCESTER — On Dec. 30, a group of students from Clark University, WPI and Worcester State University will be on their way from New York City to celebrate the New Year in Israel. Headed by Clark senior Becky Davidoff, the group will meet up with other young adults from across the country to take part in the Jewish National Fund’s annual weeklong Alternative Winter Break.
They will be working, not touring, taking an active part in projects related to the JNF’s ongoing mission “to make the country and the people better,” says Davidoff. She is currently the JNF Campus Fellow at Clark and is also about to complete her year’s term as president of Clark Hillel.
The itinerary for this winter’s JNF trip takes the group to the southern part of Israel. Here, they will volunteer in the Halutza region on the Egyptian border; work with soldiers in Special in Uniform, a program that incorporates adults with disabilities into the IDF; and help to build an urban sanctuary at Earth’s Promise, which promotes urban farming.
Davidoff, who hails from West Hartford, went with JNF last December. She notes that the organization’s approach ensures that, “You’re getting your hands dirty and actually doing something.”
Founded in 1901 as a Zionist vision to create a Jewish homeland in Israel, the Jewish National Fund continues to plant trees just as it always has, but it also spearheads projects across the spectrum of Israeli society and culture, from developing parks and playgrounds to implementing new techniques for sustainable agriculture and a protected water supply.
The purpose of the Alternative Winter Break is to bring young adults aged 18-24 into the heart of this work, giving them an opportunity both to contribute as well as to know Israel.
Last year, Becky Davidoff’s group cleared weeds at one site and painted an outlined mural on the outside walls of a kindergarten at another, among several additional projects.
Davidiff noted that the elimination of weeds allowed access to vital water. “This is really important work.”
Each person who goes on the Alternative Winter Break must raise $950 in order to participate. Airfare and travel expenses are fully funded by donors, and so all of the money raised by students goes directly to JNF projects.
The Fellowship program trains “pro-Israel college students across America” to create Positively Israel programming at colleges and universities.
“They’re making lives better; that’s what they want to do. It’s all about the positive aspects of Israel,” says Davidoff.
She recently returned from JNF’s National Conference in Miami, where she served on a panel entitled, “Defeating BDS with Positively Israel Activism on College Campuses.”
While at the conference, she met the founder of the Israel Association of Baseball, which sparked her plan to put together a spring fundraiser at Clark. She would like to raise money for the Ezra Schwartz ballfield the IAB is building in memory of the young man from Sharon who was murdered in the West Bank two years ago.
Each JNF Fellow is obligated to recruit five students to go on the Annual Winter Break. Davidoff has tripled that number; there will be 15 traveling this month from Worcester.
In that effort, she has worked closely with Clark Hillel’s IACT/Israel Coordinator, Alyssa Kaminsky. “I love bringing people to Israel. It’s so cool to see their first reactions,” Davidoff said, adding, “Every time I go there, it feels like home.”