With the growing frequency of "alternative spring break programs" making them less, well, alternative, USC Hillel added a twist that helped it reclaim moniker. The campus Jewish group teamed up with the USC chapter of the NAACP to build houses in Baton Rouge over spring break in March, using the heavily subsidized service project as an opportunity to build bridges between the two communities.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, "it became obvious to me that we needed to talk about the racial component. That is why we reached out to the NAACP on campus," says USC Hillel's Rabbi Jonathan Klein, who admits the program was a throwback to his own college days in the 1980s, when there were efforts to rebuild a broken black-Jewish alliance.
Sixteen Jewish students, 14 African American students and one Asian student spent the week with chainsaws, hammers and raw strength erecting four houses for Habitat for Humanity in Baton Rouge, which took in a huge influx of refugees after hurricanes Katrina and Rita last August.
The students also toured New Orleans, where they met with the national president of the NAACP, and spent Purim with Chabad at Tulane University. Friday night services were at Temple Beth Shalom in Baton Rouge, while Sunday morning found the students at the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.
The students spent time reading and talking about the history of the black-Jewish alliance, from the civil rights cooperation to the challenges of the 1980s and 90s. They talked about stereotypes each community withstands, and studied the biblical origins of Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Klein says the students' conversations went to the very core of what it means to have an ethnic identity.
"I think the black-Jewish conversation is important not just in terms of building an alliance, but it helps Jews understand themselves better," Klein said.
Camp Bargains Still Available
West Coast camps are reaching out to make a summer Jewish experience accessible to more kids.
B'nai Brith Camp, located on a lakeside campus on the Oregon coast, is offering a 50 percent scholarship to all first time campers entering second, third or fourth grades enrolling in the Maccabee session, June 26-July 3.
The Dor L'dor scholarship is sponsored by the B'nai B'rith Men's Camp Association, which since 1930 has been supporting the B'nai Brith Camp, run by the Mittelman Jewish Community Center in Portland.
Down at the southern end of the coast, the two-year-old Camp Mountain Chai in Angeles National Forest will match any scholarships campers get from other sources, such as Jewish Federations or foundations. The camp also offers some need- and merit-based scholarships.
For more information regarding B'nai B'rith Camp or the Dor L'dor Fund, call (503) 452-3444 or visit www.bbcamp.org. For information about Camp Mountain Chai, call (858) 535-1995 or visit www.campmountainchai.com.
A Yiddische Summer
Undergraduates living or attending college in Los Angeles are invited to apply for a paid, 10-week internship with Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization that promotes Yiddish language and culture.
Classnotes appears the first issue of every month. Please send items to Julief@jewishjournal.com.