A year ago, a number of Jewish groups mobilized young people to help others rebuild homes and communities in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This week a new Jewish group announced plans to send some 500 young adults from the U.S. and other countries to northern Israel to help people rebuild their homes and communities in the wake of the war with Hezbollah.Lynn Schusterman, the Tulsa-based philanthropist and president of the Lynn and Charles Schusterman Family Foundation, said she was creating the Center for Leadership Initiatives (CLI) to focus on leadership development and professional growth as part of her goal “to create a community around the world of Jewish young people who are involved” in Jewish life and a variety of service projects.Schusterman is a major funder of Hillel, BBYO, birthright israel and a number of other causes.CLI’s first venture, “Leading Up North,” will be funded with $1.5 million and calls for some 500 Jewish men and women between college age and early 30s to spend 7-10 days in Israel in late December and early January helping residents of northern Israel — Jewish, Arab and Christian — repair and rebuild their homes and towns, plant trees and mend extensive environmental damage, as well as offer emotional support.
The volunteers will be asked to pay $180, with the rest of the cost of airfare and stays in kibbutz hotels to be absorbed by CLI.Yonatan Gordis, the director of CLI, noted that such a trip “can be a transformative experience and a dynamic bridge between Israel and the diaspora.” He said the organization hopes to “meet these [young adults] where they are and boost them,” offering leadership training, skills and opportunities — as lay leaders or professionals — while helping others. Gordis, formerly a consultant to the Schusterman Family Foundation and other non-profits, said that based on the post-Katrina experience, “We have learned that rebuilding is not a quick fix. The healing is not just about the physical repairs but involves a long process to help people get back their sense of confidence and safety.”According to Lisa Eisen, national program director of the Schusterman Family Foundation, the young volunteers will combine the real work of physical repairs with a Jewish learning experience, a Shabbat program and a major gathering to bring them all together.“We see this first project as an opportunity for young people to help rebuild Israel, express solidarity and grow themselves by giving back through service,” she said.Participants will be recruited through Hillel, birthright israel, the Jewish Coalition for Service and other groups.One goal is to have other Jewish organizations replicate the efforts of CLI, said Eisen, who noted that her father, a senior professional at a Jewish Federation, “pitched the idea of adults” going to Israel to volunteer and received positive feedback.