Today is Ukraine Independence Day (and my mother's birthday) and yesterday was Kharkov Victory Day, so it's a wonderful time to be here in Kharkov. Our group is currently at the Kharkov Hillel office and the students and staff are great.
Here is the press release about our mission:
AMERICAN JEWISH JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE SENDING UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN STUDENTS TO UKRAINE IN THE FORMER SOVIET UNION
A group of fifteen undergraduate students from Hillel at the University of Michigan (www.umhillel.org) will travel to Ukraine through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (www.jdc.org) on August 22, 2005 to restore a Jewish cemetery, refurbish community facilities and discuss Jewish identity with local peers.
"Ukraine is a major historic center of Jewish life," said Linda Levi, JDC Assistant Executive Vice President. "As the Jews in these countries rebuild what was lost in the Holocaust and destroyed by years of communist rule, we want our young leaders to appreciate the fact that we have a role to play in helping revive the rich intellectual, spiritual and communal life in these Jewish communities."
From August 22-31, 15 students (see attached list) from the University of Michigan along with Rabbi Jason Miller (Assistant Director of Hillel) and Alexis Frankel (Program Director of U-M Hillel) will travel to Kharkov, Konotop and Kiev in Ukraine, where they will join their peers from Kharkov Hillel to paint apartments of Jewish families in need and refurbish Jewish community facilities. They will also meet with community leaders and local youth to discuss the challenges facing Ukrainian Jewry and the JDC's role in addressing those issues.
This project is a partnership between JDC, University of Michigan Hillel, and Kharkov Hillel, and is financially supported by grants from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Mandell L. and Madeleine H. Berman Foundation, as well as a few angel donors to the project.
Rabbi Jason Miller, assistant director of U-M Hillel noted the importance of not only the volunteering component of this mission, but also the social experience of spending time with Jewish peers in the Former Soviet Union. “The cultural exchange that will take place between the Michigan students and the college students in Ukraine speaks volumes about the impact of globalization on the Jewish community. They are thousands and thousands of miles apart geographically, but this mission will bring Jewish students much closer together and hopefully they will realize the many commonalities they share. This experience is all about partnerships, and watching our U-M students partner with the Ukrainian students to perform acts of chesed (righteousness) will have a lasting effect on all of us.” Miller hopes this will experience will create a new trend for other Hillel campus organizations.
"We are excited to be a part of this opportunity for young Jews to volunteer alongside their peers in Ukraine as they revitalize the community and ultimately become advocates for global Jewish solidarity," said Lynn Schusterman, President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. "These students are joining together to demonstrate their commitment to a strong Jewish future.
"Some people say service to others is the rent we pay for space on this planet. I think service to others is the down payment we make to assure a safe, secure home on earth for our children and grandchildren."
This mission is part of a program JDC has developed in coordination with International Hillel (hillel.org) to offer short-term volunteer experiences to groups of university students during their school breaks. The purpose is to engage the students and empower them to take on leadership roles in advocating for global Jewish solidarity.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) serves as the overseas arm of the organized North American Jewish community providing relief for Jews in need, promoting Jewish renewal, rebuilding Jewish communities, and helping Israel address its most urgent social challenges.
University of Michigan Hillel is one of the largest student organizations on campus, housing over thirty student-run programs that enrich the lives of Jewish students at the University of Michigan.