A group of students from Yeshiva University in New York busied themselves on Wednesday morning in the northern Galilee community of Kfar Vradim, connecting pipes and installing barrels onto an elementary school’s basketball court so that the school can collect rainwater for reuse in toilet flushing, gardening and other water and money saving purposes.
The 16 undergraduates – half male, half female – were taking part in Yeshiva University’s QUEST student leadership program, in which students attend two semesters worth of leadership training sessions, raise money for a cause they choose together, and then participate in a weeklong trip to Israel where they see their efforts come to fruition.
This year’s group raised $20,000 for the Jewish National Fund’s Parsons Water Fund, which invests in an array of projects to combat the country’s water crisis.
They visited Israel this week, helped to install the water recycling mechanism in Kfar Vradim and took part in other volunteer projects.
“The goal of the program is to inspire and train undergraduate students to improve their leadership skills and take an active role in the Jewish communal landscape,” Hezzy Jesin, program manager for the Leadership Training Division of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future, which oversees the QUEST program, said in a statement.
“This mission brings us one step closer to reaching that goal by educating the QUEST fellows about long- and short-term strategic planning against the backdrop of Israel’s water crisis and presenting the students with an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of their cause.”
In their effort to make a “far-reaching impact,” rather than opt for a cause chosen many times by students in the past few years – helping building up the Halutza community of 2005 Gush Katif evacuees – this group focused on an issue that is causing crises both in Israel and globally, Jesin said.
“The group felt that this was an area that wasn’t being talked about. It wasn’t something people were regularly conscious of and it had a far-reaching impact on the State of Israel and the global scene in terms of water resources starting to dry up,” Jesin told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “They had a long conversation – regarding the relationship with Halutza, they felt like a big fish in a small pond. Here, they felt they’d be a small fish in a big pond because it’s a massive issue and there’s a lot of work to be done, but that it was important to put their drop in.”
The participants echoed these sentiments.
“The water seemed the most appealing because we felt that it’s something in the coming decade that is going to keep on becoming a bigger issue, and we wanted to do something that will have that big impact and it seemed the most interesting,” said Moshe Donath, 19, from Montreal, who is finishing his sophomore year. “It was a different cause, it wasn’t the regular Halutza project that they’ve been doing for the past few years. While we’re raising money, at the same time we’re educating and pitching to communities back home about the water issue.”
Marganit Raunch, 21, said the project has helped her increase her personal awareness about water conservation.
“It actually ends up being helpful to me as well,” said Raunch, who is finishing her junior year. “It made me think about my conservation of water. I come from England, where it rains all the time. But it’s a global issue.”
Upon arriving at the Galilee school on Wednesday morning, the students transported large black barrels to the basketball court, setting them up about a meter above the ground to collect runoff, Raunch explained.
“A basketball court is a good place because when it rains it gets flooded,” she said.
From there, they connected the barrels to pipes and then attached these pipes to the school’s bathrooms.
“The kids were watching and they could see what’s going on, and we said, ‘This is your way of recycling now,’” Raunch said, adding that this initiative will save the school thousands of shekels each year. “It will save a lot of water, a nice amount, but it wouldn’t be worthwhile without the educational value it has to these kids.”
“It was a lot of fun,” Donath said. “We think it’s a great project just because besides helping Israel environmentally, it helps the school save money, at least a couple thousand shekels every year. It’s maybe a new computer one year – it just adds up.”
The project was conducted in conjunction with the Hugey Sayarut organization, which will teach the elementary school pupils how to use their new recycling tools, Jesin said.
While some of the $20,000 was allocated to the work at the school, contributions to the Parsons Water Fund could go to anything from water desalination plants to drilling for water in northern Israel, Jesin said.
The Yeshiva University students took part in a number of other social causes this week, including a visit to the Yemin Orde youth village near Haifa, where they learned about how the country’s long-term water crisis played a big role in the Mount Carmel Forest fire in December, Jesin said.
“It was to emphasize how important water is, because the drought really exacerbated the situation there and it emphasized the importance of water conservation and having water available there,” Jesin said.
Donath was so influenced by the group’s trip to Yemin Orde on Tuesday that he is considering taking on a fellowship there after he graduates.
“The trip as a whole, it’s meant to allow you to understand the problems that Israeli is facing,” Donath said.
“Our hope is that this mission inspires our students to become dedicated to Jewish communal causes and share that passion with their peers,” Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Center for the Jewish Future, said in a statement. “As we see it, our work is not complete until they recognize their responsibility to engage with the Jewish community as professional or lay leaders.”
And for students like Donath and Raunch, the mission and two semesters worth of learning has accomplished just that.
“It was amazing we got see the culmination of everything we raised money for,” Raunch said.