Bonai Shalom member Stephanie Schneider is graduating with Honors from Colorado State University in May and has already been accepted as a social justice volunteer for a nine-month program in India and Israel. The program, called Leadership and International Fellowship Experience (LIFE), is run by B’Tzedek and begins in October. Boulder Jewish News interviews Stephanie.
What is B’Tzedek/LIFE?
B’Tzedek means “in Justice” and “through Justice.” The organization’s mission is to develop leadership for social change and social justice amongst youth and young adults in Israel and Jewish communities internationally. It specializes in service learning programs in Israel and overseas.
LIFE is a nine-month, leadership development program in Israel and India for college graduates. A service-learning program for participants from across the Jewish world with your Israeli peers, LIFE starts in Israel with a two-week orientation, continues in India for four months and finishes with four and a half months in Israel.
LIFE volunteers have made a huge difference. In Israel, they have established an Israeli version of “Doctors Without Borders,” now active in Haiti, improved the status of women in the workplace, and introduced sustainability practices in the Jerusalem City Council. In India, LIFE has improved drinking water for 3 million people, advanced child labor law enforcement, and brought arts programs to children in two hundred villages.
What is inspiring you to spend nine months of your life in B’Tzedek?
I began my journey in the summer of 2009 a few months after I had surgery to remove a cyst from my neck. I began to feel as though my life was meaningless and I needed more substance to my life. I started to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and I fell in love with helping people make what seemed to be the impossible, possible. After that I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world helping more people to make possibilities a reality.
Being able to go to Israel and work with NGOs to make a difference is extremely important to me because, having family that came to Israel after the war — as well as my grandmother being a survivor of the Holocaust — I feel that having the privilege to make a difference is truly an honor. I had the privilege of going to Israel on Birthright in the winter of 2009 and when I left, I knew I had to come back. In my search for a program that fit for me, I came across LIFE. I knew that it was meant to be, I knew that serving in Israel for social justice was an opportunity that was true to my heart.
Also, having the ability to go to a developing country, such as India, is a phenomenal opportunity. I read a book titled “Creating a World Without Poverty”, which talked about what I had experienced with Habitat, making the impossible possible. I was incredibly moved and knew that if something like that can work in Bangladesh, which is bordered by India, why not everywhere else? I know that I can make a difference in the world and help those who may not be able to see the light realize that it is right in front of them.
You will be doing this volunteer work in India and Israel. What difference does that make in your Jewish community?
Upon my return, I will have gained knowledge and experience of Israel that a lot of people do not have the privilege to experience. I will be able to speak about my experience and what I have learned during the program. This is not just an internship, it is also a program where I will be learning and participating in group discussions that are designed to develop social vision, leadership abilities and self-understanding. I feel that I can be an advocate for social justice in Israel and be able to speak about my experience and I hope to ignite the same passion inside others, as was lit in myself. Also, I know this work will enhance the career path that I will be pursuing once I get back. I want to work in non-profits and make a difference in the lives of those around me. I am a recent graduate from Colorado State University and I know this, coupled with my degree in business management, will give me the knowledge and experience to truly make an impact.
How can people support your mission? Is donating tax deductible?
Yes, donations are tax deductible. I am in the process of raising the $12,500 that this program costs and I am extremely grateful to those in the community who already have committed to giving. If you can support my cause, or if you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be delighted to send you the instructions on how to make a tax-deductible donation.