Alternative Winter Break Alternative Winter Break 2020
On December 22nd-27th, 2019, 30 Young Judaean teens continued the work we began in December 2018, rebuilding affected areas of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck the island over two years ago. Our group was hosted by the JCC in San Juan which is also home to the YJ Puerto Rico chapter! Diego Mendelbaum, Director of the JCC and father of 2 Judaean teens welcomed our participants with open arms.
Each day on AWB was packed with learning and volunteer opportunities. We partnered with SBP, a disaster relief organization, to rebuild 3 different homes across the northern coast of Puerto Rico. This work mainly involved debris removal and painting but a couple teens got a how-to on power tools! Our partnership with SBP began in AWB New Orleans many years ago and we hope to continue the connection for years to come.
We also painted over 3 homes and 1 school in Loiza in classic Puerto Rican greens, oranges and blues. The JCC established a close-knit relationship with the Loizan community in the aftermath of Maria. It was a joy to work with them 2 years in a row. Our participants got to know Loiza’s community members a bit better by running a Christmas carnival for the local kids and volunteering at a soup kitchen for the elderly on Christmas day. A definite highlight was sharing our rikudim with the community and learning some of their dances as well.
Our chanichim learned more about the hurricane’s environmental impact when we volunteered in the Camuy forest removing invasive plants and planting mangroves to serve as an additional line of defense in the case of another hurricane. This day of volunteering was sweetened with a trip to the gorgeous Mar Chiquita in Manati, a small beach cove protected from the rough Atlantic by a limestone rock wall.
We were lucky enough to celebrate Chanukah with the Puerto Rican Jewish community. Our group assisted the JCC with their annual Chanukah party by running art projects and games for the kids, performing a Chanukah skit, and leading rikudim. Some other highlights of the trip include a multi-generational Young Judaea alumni panel, where our teens learned about Puerto Rico’s history and Jewish community, and a trip to Old San Juan where we shopped around and visited old historic landmarks.
Each night chanichim gathered into small groups for “Mishpachot,” a dedicated time for reflecting on the day’s events led by our madrichim. In these conversations our teens thought critically about ethical volunteering and discovered a new passion for political activism, equity, and environmentalism. On the last night of our trip our madrichim led a peulah entitled, “Sustain the Change,” encouraging the group to brainstorm new and creative ways we can bring these experiences home to our local communities. The impact of AWB is often felt by participants for years after they graduate. We are so grateful to all of the support we received in order to be able to run this inspiring program!