On Birthright, I toured and learned about many aspects of Israel, including the history, culture and society, which included a day visit to a school in Haifa. During Onward Israel, I immersed myself in Haifa for a summer, experiencing independent life while working and exploring the city with great friends. At the conclusion of this action-packed summer, I was glum departing from a city I loved within a country that meant so much to me, as I didn’t know when, or even if, I would return.

I had no conception I would be returning to my favorite city in the world within a year, nevertheless doing incredible things with a tight-knit group of 20 students (and one Israeli medic, Ori). Hearing about CJP’s Alternate Spring Break program and the engaging volunteering opportunities, coupled with time to explore and learn more about Israel, I knew my next experience in the Holy Land would be sooner than I ever expected.

This trip had a variety of volunteering programs. Everything we did was unique and exciting. One day we volunteered on a farm, harvesting thousands of kohlrabies in a community garden, which would be packaged and sent to families in need. Another project involved us volunteering, packing candy and snacks for a non-profit, which would sell them to raise money for underprivileged youth. We spent one afternoon painting fences bright colors and interacting with kids at the Beit Resler Community Center. One physical project involved lifting rocks and cutting down vegetation in order to reduce flooding in a nature preserve in Jerusalem. For all these projects, it was satisfying observing the differences we were making.

The most exciting and fulfilling volunteering we did was at the Nirim school in a disadvantaged neighborhood of Haifa. For four hours we painted colorful animals on the walls of the school, interacted with the birds, bunnies, chinchillas and turtles, while also interacting with the kids. The excitement and enthusiasm of the children was one of the highlights of this trip. We played soccer, basketball, dodgeball and even frisbee. Though we could not communicate with most of the children through language, we were able to connect with them through these activities, and by the time we had to leave they were giving us fist bumps and hugs.

This trip was and is incredibly special. Regarding volunteering trips like these, I have heard concerns along the lines of, “Why is money spent bringing you to Israel when it could be used on the organizations themselves?” While there is no denying money is necessary, many people are willing to donate money. Only a few are willing to donate their time. Throughout the Alternative Spring Break Haifa trip, Israelis inquired as to why we were volunteering in Israel instead of tanning in Miami (specifically Miami; this happened at least three times, so they must like Miami!). We responded by declaring that we are here because we love Israel and, with it, the people. Volunteering our time and experiencing Haifa and Israel with a new perspective was an invaluable experience, and I am grateful we were able to make a positive difference in the lives of others along the way.

Ariel Tynan, Northeastern University ’22, participated in his Hillel’s Birthright Israel trip and then the Boston Onward Israel professional internship program, where he interned with artificial intelligence start-up Augury. He returned to Haifa to volunteer with CJP’s Alternative Spring Break mission.