Photo Credit: NYU Hillel Facebook
NYU Hillel students, April 24, 2023.

Ruthie Yudelson, a resident of Teaneck, New Jersey, wrote me Sunday night:

I am a college student at NYU, majoring in environmental sociology, who has raised 16,000 dollars in two days for humanitarian aid relief in Israel. I want to redefine want student activism can look like— and I want to share what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.


I’m reaching out in a complicated week. In the unsettling wake of terror, and with much unknown on the horizon, Jewish communities in Israel are struggling for survival while American communities are struggling to know what they can offer. Since the news began trickling into the Bronfman Center over Simchat Torah, my immediate instinct was to get organized. This past Sunday, that meant hosting a Tehillim circle with 25 students for songs, prayers, and a space to cope with the unease we shared at the partial knowledge we had received of the unimaginable. My efforts have continued this week— with regular Tehillim instituted in the daily schedule, with a Unity Kumzitz consisting of 85 Jewish students, including those in the Chabad Bowery community, and regular mental-health check-ins with my peers. I have done everything I knew how to do within this space to support the people I care about.

And still, thoughts and prayers do not always feel like enough. Two days ago, after attending multiple Zoom Shivas for loved ones of loved ones in Israel, and running into multiple students crying in the building, I could feel the sense of discouragement permeating our building. I realized then that our community needs to be something beyond hopeless— I speak for student bodies everywhere when I say that we are ready to be useful.

Immediately, an idea was born: a 24-hour service and learning fundraiser, called 24 Hours of Service, starting tonight at midnight, where donors sponsor students in their actionable commitment towards positive action. A day of learning, Tehillim, making cards, baking treats, handing out food at soup kitchens, knitting sweaters, hosting an empathetic listening hotline, and calling donors— with generous sponsors “paying” students for their time.

Fundraisers are tricky for college students. People come from varied backgrounds, and we would hate to have students feel like without adequate funds, they can’t participate. That’s where our three-pronged financial model was born. We’ve been in touch with higher-level philanthropists and families— that’s our top tier. We have templates for students to reach out to mid-size businesses and corporations, using list services we’ve gotten access to through personal relationships with the sort of people who regularly do this work— that’s our mid-tier. And, for students for whom it is financially and politically responsible, we are asking that participants send out the donation link to their friends and family to have their hours of service and learning sponsored.

The amount of positivity that this initiative has been met with is truly humbling. The staff at the Bronfman Center have been nothing short of incredible. This could not have gotten off the ground without them. From the student end, everyone who hears about this initiative walks away in shock that something this big is happening in our very own Bronfman Center. Students are energized and ready to put their concern and care behind actionable good. The best word I have for the effect is “empowerment”. And from the donor end— we have raised over $16,000 since Thursday night. Donors are excited about the double-action their contribution can achieve: bolstering a campus community while providing on-the-ground humanitarian relief to Israel.

I truly believe this fundraiser has the potential to change what activism can look like on a college campus. While rallies and vigils have their place, we want to provide an example of what happens when we transcend the political and arrive at the pragmatic. I truly believe other Hillels will follow our example. But what I know, beyond belief, is that 16,000 dollars have already gone to supporting our loved ones overseas who need it most— in the form of covering burial costs, providing trauma therapy, quick cash to those who lost their homes, and meals for those who are hungry. When the world falls apart, the Jewish people hold each other together.

I am writing because I want you to be aware of the innovation that is happening at NYU right now. I want to share how our narrative has changed from one of distant ineffectuality to one of actionable commitment and change. And I want you to know that, since our initiative went live, we have been living in a different community— energized, committed, united, and ready to be of service.

I would love to discuss what press coverage for this initiative could look like. I truly believe we are revolutionizing the relationship between college students and Israel. I believe our actionable commitment is inspiring donors and, if the word got out, could inspire a generation. I believe that these funds are going to supporting our previously demoralized campus community as well as providing what we can to Israel. When this started, I was told my goal was too ambitious. I now understand that it was not ambitious enough.

This link has our student sign-up and our donor form: @24HoursOfServiceNYU

I am humbled by what we have the power to do together. Of course, feel free to send this email to anyone who might find it interesting— students, donors, press (the NYT will be there on Monday), or family and friends in Israel who would be comforted to know that American students are thinking of them, praying for them, and organizing for them. All of this is just our attempt to give the Jewish people a gift of meaning and magnitude. This is only an act of love.

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