Immersive Experiences


In conjunction with various partner organizations, Hillel Montreal offers alternative winter and spring breaks: student trips abroad based on the Jewish principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world). Students get hands-on volunteering experience through our service learning programs. We have tackled a host of issues including lack of education and other youth causes, homelessness and poverty. The excursions are powerful and rewarding opportunities to connect. Past trips include Ghana, LA, Nicaragua and Miami, and we are always seeking out new partnerships for future journeys.

Hillel Montreal's alternative break programs are service-learning trips addressing social justice issues of the host community and learning about these issues through a Jewish lens. This means you can expect to partake in at least 25 hours of service (hands on volunteering), and at least 10 hours of learning (group style discussion and reflection).

Hillel Montreal Mission Statement:
Our mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish students through meaningful points of engagement so they may enrich the Jewish people and the world.

Hillel Montreal Alternative Breaks (AB) can be a one or two-week program for college-aged / university students organized in collaboration with partner organizations. Participants explore the connections between social justice, service and Judaism through education and hands-on volunteer work.

5 components of an Alternative Break trip:

1)    Community-Driven Service
We cooperate with communities on issue identification; we also work collaboratively on project implementation, continuous evaluation, and regular improvements.

2)    Deliberate Learning - Study/Curriculum
One of alternative breaks core assumptions is that context matters. We cooperate with community members and organizations to educate participants about local culture, local concerns, and local assets.

3)    Intercultural Immersion and Cross-Cultural Exchange
Alternative breaks encourage connections across cultures. Through cooperative service efforts, deliberate local learning, and in some cases, homestays, The alternative break experiences ensure deep learning about cultural assumptions, worldviews, and of course the concerns and happiness that we all hold in common.

4)    Consideration of Global Citizenship
Alternative breaks invite all participants to reflect on fundamental human equality and how we might each work to build a world where human life is treated more equally across traditional cleavages of ethnicity, nation, class, or gender. Consideration of personal, political, and economic opportunities for enacting global citizenship provides

5)    Reflective Inquiry
The questions we face when engaged in intercultural service around the world are often difficult. And it can be challenging to stay connected to global civic engagement after a short-term experience. We believe strongly that it is important to continue asking: What is service? How have I learned from others’ cultures? What do I understand better about my own? How can I value others around the world, even from my home? What are the ways I can be a good global citizen right here?

Participants should expect the following:
•    The unexpected
•    An intense and authentic cultural experience
•    Community-based service work
•    Fun recreational activities
•    Challenging debate and rigorous coursework
•    The opportunity to try new things
•    Meeting new and different people
•    A knowledgeable site director
•    A flexible learning and working environment
•    Personal reflection
•    A powerful and realistic examination of service
•    More questions than answers

Why go?

Guilty as charged, two years after graduation, I am still a subscriber to the Weekly Brew Hillel newsletter!  As I was scrolling through last weeks e-mail update I came across flyers for this year’s alternative breaks. I was overcome with excitement to see that Hillel Montreal has once again decided to offer service-learning trips to students.

I immediately became nostalgic as I thought back to the week I spent in Nicaragua and decided that I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure other students don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity. I called up Hillel and offered to submit a testimonial highlighting some of the memories that I fondly hold about my week on alternative break 2011. Going on this trip was one of the best experiences I had in my undergraduate years. I was hesitant about applying at first due to my heavy workload, and the fact that Nicaragua was so far removed from my comfort zone.

I decided to let go of my inhibitions and apply anyways, and I am still reaping the benefits.  From the moment that we arrived we were welcomed with open arms by the community organization we were working in. They taught us everything there was to know about their projects, and what they stood for. We took part in a 5 day volunteer project where we built ovens alongside two families which would later be used to bake bread (the bread would then be sold in the local market to generate income). We actually had the opportunity to visit this market during a tour of Nandaime, the town we were staying in.

Working alongside the community members gave us a chance to have candid conversations about family, the education system, and job security. They let us tour their homes, and gave us an insight into their lives. At the end of the long day, we would sit with trained facilitators and discuss themes such as global poverty, sustainability, and social justice both from a humanistic and Jewish perspective.

This program has given me an understanding into an aspect of Judaism that I have never really explored prior to coming on this trip. It has made me a more globally conscious citizen, and it has made me more aware of how my actions in Montreal affect society at large. This trip has given me a sense of community in which I had the opportunity to meet other like-minded students and it taught me things that I never would have learned in a classroom.

So my advice to all those considering applying for alternative break trips: DO IT! You won’t regret it.

-Nicaragua 2012 Alum