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Cornell Hillel students reach out to Ukrainian Jews

Twenty Cornell Hillel students set out for Ukraine on June 15 for a nine-day service trip. Based in Dnepropetrovsk, a city of 1.1 million people, 60,000 of whom are Jewish, they worked with local Hillel students and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). As a site of military weapons production, Dnepropetrovsk was a closed city under Soviet rule until Ukraine declared its independence in 1990. The Cornell students' mission included serving elderly and disabled Jews, many of whom live in poverty and have lost touch with their Jewish heritage. The following excerpts from blog posts illustrate the students' experiences.

"Having gone back to Ukraine I can no longer say I am disconnected or removed from a country that could have been my only motherland. ... I was born in Ukraine, and now I can say I have seen only a snippet of its vastness. ... My respect goes to those who see possibilities without end ... who dream impossible, insane dreams ... within the insanity of impossibility there lie the possibilities of incredible things.

"I cannot predict how the communities we visited will develop. There is still so much movement, change and even immigration. What I can say is that I've made friendships that I truly treasure with people I had never known existed; with an extended family that I see will push forward for progress and has the determination to succeed."

-- Alexandra "Sasha" Schiffrin '10

"We visited an orphanage where we worked on art projects and completed therapy exercises with the children. By the end of the session, I knew how to say 'hold it like a spoon' in Russian. (The only other thing I've heard repeated enough to learn was 'thank you' and 'yes.')

"It is still surprising to realize how much other people care about your visit to them. I am taking a mere 10 days out of my life to spend ... in Ukraine, and this visit alone has already impacted their community a great deal. It's scary to realize, but the American name carries so much with it. When we are introduced, our nationality is the most important thing. We are followed around like paparazzi. We have already had two television stations interview our group. We were even visited by the Deputy Mayor of Melitopol. Although we have limited time, every moment we spend in each place sends the message that we care.

"We were told at the beginning of our day that the local government gives little aid to the orphanage. However, JDC's involvement with the orphanage has raised the government's attention."

-- Lauren Cohan '11

"My first home visit was to an elderly woman whose name is Rachil, 86 years old. She has no family. Her father died when she was 2, and her mother was left raising three children. ... Rachil was married but sadly her husband passed away in 1990, leaving her completely alone. However, despite her challenging life, Rachil is one of the brightest, most enthusiastic and loving individuals that I have met. ... I walked away understanding that every cloud has a silver lining. Rachil was eager to tell [us] about her story during the war. She used to work in a hospital in Melitopol, until the Nazis invaded. It seemed as though she loved what she did, and her craft truly made her happy. ...

"I knew that this elderly woman had absolutely no one, and yet she was joyful and sang this beautiful song ['Sunshine'] with a huge smile on her face. Rachil was singing from the bottom of her heart to us and referred to some of us as her 'Sunshines.'"

-- Angelina Yucht '09

Hillel connects students with professionals

Cornell Hillel is also active this summer hosting six networking panels in New York City to connect Cornell students with prominent alumni and parents. The panels are in finance, law, communications, the nonprofit sector, health and real estate. The final panel will be held July 30. More information about the panels: http://app.e2ma.net/campaign/2d81c4dba77cacebe0fece76adae1176.

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