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May 19, 2011 - Image 42

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-05-19

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for college students by college students

Explosive Topic

MSU Hillel students help Kentuckians harmed by mountaintop mining.

By Nina Patchak

East Lansing


pring break in Kentucky? Why
did 10 Jewish kids head to
Harlan Country, Kentucky?
Seems like an unlikely place for stu-
dents to travel on spring break, but it
was the one place the 10 curious stu-
dents from Michigan State University
were needed.
MSU Hillel's Teva group decided to
head there to understand the grow-
ing issue of mountaintop removal.
Teva means nature in Hebrew and the
group focuses on learning and improv
ing the outdoors. The Appalachians
were calling our names.
Mountaintop removal is the process
where coal companies take explosives
and blow the tops off mountains to
extract coal in the fastest and easi-
est way. Debris from the explosions is
Front row; junior Jessica Langnas, Bloomfield Hills; juniors Jared
pushed down into the valleys, further
Berman, Erinn Kohn, Robert Goldman and Marla Kerwin, all
ruining the landscape. Not only are
from West Bloomfield. Back row: junior Zack Fealk, Huntington
mountains left bare, but all the rich
Woods; junior Nina Patchak, West Bloomfield; junior Sam Appel,
Huntington Woods; sophomore Amy Shulman, West Bloomfield;
soil is unusable; forests then are clear-
and senior Sam Plotkin, Huntington Woods.
cut and animals are left without their
habitats. Even the vast rivers that flow
throughout the Appalachian region are
sites are only a hike away from people's homes left me with the
contaminated from the metals.
feeling that not only are the resources exploited, but also the
As a student leader on this trip, I expected the environmental
people. The air the people breathe is polluted. Their homes are left
degradation to be extreme; however, I was completely speechless
with a layer of coal filth and, worst of all, they are in areas where
about its effect on the people, who have built their lives around
boulders could come crashing down upon their homes. Not only
the coal industry; now only 11 percent are working in the field.
are the people in Harlan County affected, but also most states that
Mountaintop removal requires far fewer workers and they need to
touch the Appalachians: Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee.
be experienced in using explosives. Often this means bringing spe-
The 10 of us from MSU Hillel worked with an advocacy group,
cialized workers to the area from around the country; leaving area
Mountain Justice, to fight against coal mining in the area. Our
workers without jobs in an industry that used to sustain them.
group was welcomed at Holy Trinity Church, which housed us dur-
Coming from Michigan, I have a strong familiarity with our will
ing our adventure. During this weeklong trip, we went to old coal
to protect the Great Lakes. Learning that dangerous mountaintop
sites and planted 50 trees each. We traveled to people's homes

so we could help them prepare for weather
changes. Harlan County is one of the poorest
counties in America, and people do not have
the means to improve their homes. During
these projects, we insulated, calked, painted,
changed light bulbs and created connections
with these people — Tikkun Olam, repairing
the world, one step at a time.
Apart from the hands-on learning, we
gained understanding of what the people
of Harlan County are like. We listened and
danced to mountain folk music; tasted the
cuisine of classic fried dishes; hiked in the
Appalachian area; and watched a number of
videos to familiarize ourselves with the atmo-
sphere we were in. And we learned how to
drive along mountainsides as wildlife quickly
passed us.

The MSU Teva group stops for a photo in Virginia, just
across the stateline from Harlan County, Ky., where they vol-
unteered for a week and worked with the advocacy group,
Mountain Justice.


May 19 4, 2011

For me, this was a life-changing experience.
I realize "life-changing" often gets thrown
around, but this trip sincerely gave each of us
an adventure we will never forget. @

Nina Patchak, Teva chair, is a junior at MSU from West

Israel Fellowship participants: Chad
Weiner of Royal Oak, a recent graduate
of Wayne State University, and Shayna
Hodge of Ferndale, who
attends Oakland University

Newfound Knowledge

Affirming her Zionism through
HMD's Israel Fellowship.

By Shayna Hodge

Auburn Hills

ow can I accurately explain what the Hillel of
Metro Detroit Israel Fellowship was? To me, it
was an impressive educational program that
taught participants the positives and the not-so-positives
concerning Israel.
At first, I had a feeling this program would end up
being extremely biased and one-sided, but I was wrong.
We learned about what it is to be Jewish in Israel as
well as what it is to be Jewish in the diaspora. We also
covered history and facts about Israel ranging from
Israeli inventions to history of the land.
HMD's Israel Fellowship was a 10-session program
from January through April that provided 10 participants
from Wayne State University, Oakland University and
University of Michigan-Dearborn with a stronger sense
of Israeli culture and history as well as tools for advo-
cacy. Funded by the Charles H. Gershenson Trust, the
program is unique to HMD. Students networked with
community leaders, engaged in extensive discussions
and completed assignments to fully absorb the material.
One class that really had an impact on me was taught
by Professor Howard Lupovitch, who spoke of the dif-
ferent facets of Zionism. I found it especially interest-
ing that Theodore Herzl never intended for Israel to be
primarily Jewish, rather just a safe place for the Jewish
people to call home; Herzl's plan was for Israel to be
secular. This session helped me come to the positive
conclusion that I am a Zionist and believe Israel should
forever be a safe place for all Jewish people to consider
their home.
HMD's Israel Fellowship filled me with important
knowledge of Israel and the Middle East. This program
gave me the tools to stand up for what I believe in,
backed by facts instead of opinions. For example, in my
world politics class at Oakland University, other students
would question Israel and her motives; some didn't
really know what they were talking about. With my new-
found knowledge, I could stand up for what I believe in
and point out facts on the topics at hand. Over all, this
was an amazing educational experience and now, more
than ever, I am proud to say I am a Jewish American
Zionist. @


Shayna Hodge of Ferndale is a second-year student at Oakland
University. She was a participant on Taglit-Birthright Israel
2010 and on Alternative Spring Break 2011.

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