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Young Judaea’s Alternative Winter Break (AWB) is an annual week long program which takes participants out of their everyday surroundings and immerses them in an entirely different environment. The new “community” formed in each of our AWB trips, aims to engage in intensive community service, youth leadership development and experiential Jewish learning that is both enriching and transformative.

AWB was initially inspired by Young Judaea’s Caravan for Katrina, a national campaign to gather supplies from Young Judaea communities for Jackson, Mississippi, one of the communities most hard hit by Katrina in 2005.  Once the initial urgency had passed, Young Judaea knew that there was years of work to be done in several communities, and settled on New Orleans, with a few one off trips to Los Angeles, the Navajo Nation, South Florida and NYC after Hurricane Sandy. In the 10 years that AWB has operated, over 500 teens and students have participated, giving over 12,000 hours to these communities.

This powerful experience provides participants with opportunities to learn about challenges faced by members of marginalized communities. By weaving service and Jewish learning into the fabric of AWB, participants build leadership skills and explore their Jewish identity in a meaningful way. Teens complete AWB with a deeper commitment to service, leadership and Jewish identity that will act as a launching pad to lifelong active Jewish citizenship guided by the principles of Tzedek (Social Justice) and Tikun Olam (Social Action).

in 2016, Young Judaea AWB traveled to two economically, ethnically and geographically distinct communities: New Orleans, LA which is still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Los Angeles, CA, which struggles with the challenge of having the largest wealth gap in the US, with more millionaires than any other county, as well as the most residents under the poverty line.

Young Judaea’s AWB program has served the New Orleans, LA community since 2008, and is committed to helping rebuild, renew and revive the city.  Young Judaea has developed a deep understanding of the on-going needs of New Orleans, teaching our teens the value of Pirkei Avot 2:20, 20 “It is not on you to finish the work, neither are you free to desist from it”. We continue to nurture and grow meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships with local non-profits and city leaders. In addition Young Judaea plans to enhance the Jewish nature of our program by inviting leaders of the local Jewish community to speak about New Orleans from their own perspective. Young Judaea’s Alternative Winter Break also returned to Los Angeles, CA, the site of AWB’s inaugural program in 2007,  in 2013, 2015 and 2016 to learn about and affect change around poverty. Los Angeles epitomizes the challenges of economic inequality in America, with mansions and resorts peppered upon hills that overlook some of the country’s most underserved and impoverished neighborhoods and populations.

In 2017, Young Judaea’s elected National Teen Board made the decision to travel to a new city – Charleston, South Carolina. The decision to make this change came after days of research and hours of discussion. The decision came from a place of wanting to make change in multiple places, and not to abandon a city that is so important to Young Judaea. The connections that the teens have made over the years in New Orleans will continue, both with the increased number of teens that return to volunteer as young adults and the many AWBers who attend Tulane University.

Adina Ornstein Luks, a 17 year old member of our incoming National board writes “Charleston is an incredibly important place to our collective Jewish identity as members of the American Jewish community. It provides social action opportunities in areas such as homelessness and poverty. However, the city has many issues that an interesting and currently politically relevant. Racial division is an important issue in America and the broader globe. In order to be peer leaders we need to understand these problems that plague the world that we inhabit. Having AWB in Charleston would create amazing opportunities for us to attempt to understand our place in this conflict.”

AWB has built on its successes  in volunteering with organizations that look to balance the playing field by providing badly needed services, including food, school supplies and assistance to children, elderly, young families and disabled populations around the city. Through taking on the issues that surround and fuel poverty, AWB will challenge teens with the Jewish responsibility to support those who are the most vulnerable in society, “God upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him/her with food and clothing. — You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:18.

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