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Repairing the Seas 

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Duke Students Dive Deep into Judaism, Plastic Pollution, and Environmental Stewardship on Alternative Spring Break Trip with Jewish Life at Duke

Over spring break, a group of 10 students embarked on a journey that was different from the typical spring break experience in order to explore the intersection of Jewish values and environmental conservation. Organized by Jewish Life at Duke, in collaboration with Jewish marine conservation organization Repair the Sea (Tikkun HaYam), this five-day trip to Key Largo, Florida, offered participants a unique blend of hands-on experiences, educational insights, and spiritual reflection. 

Jewish Life at Duke Alternative Spring Break 2024, Students at Turtle Hospital

From March 10th to 15th, students immersed themselves in a series of activities designed to deepen their understanding of environmental stewardship and its intersection with Jewish teachings. The itinerary was diverse, including beach cleanups, water meditations, kayaking and snorkeling. These activities not only provided practical lessons in conservation but also fostered an appreciation for the ecosystems beneath the ocean’s surface. 

One of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity to engage in debris removal while kayaking and snorkeling. Students confronted the realities of plastic pollution, encountering firsthand the impact on marine life. The students also spent time at the local Jewish Community Center learning about the threats our oceans face and ways they could mitigate risks in their daily life by reducing plastic use.  

Jewish Life at Duke Alternative Spring Break Trip 2024 Beach Yoga Pic

“I learned a lot about the relationship between Judaism and the water and how we individually impact the health of the sea. It was meaningful to see firsthand,” reflected Tali Sigal ‘27, one of the participants. 

Visiting a turtle hospital offered a reminder of the consequences of human activities on marine life. Students went on a tour of the rehabilitation facilities, including the operating rooms, and fed turtles in recovery. Many students agreed that this was the most meaningful activity because they witnessed the direct impact of plastic pollution on turtles who had been harmed by consuming plastic when they confused it for food.  

Ari Posner ‘27, a student participant, shared, “The tour of the turtle hospital made me realize the harsh reality of our actions. Witnessing their suffering due to plastic pollution was a powerful reminder of our responsibility to protect and preserve our oceans.”  

Beyond the ecological lessons, the journey also facilitated explorations into the spiritual significance of water in Judaism. They learned about water as a symbol of life, purification, and renewal within Jewish culture. Through guided reflections and discussions, participants forged meaningful connections between their faith and their role as stewards of the environment. Many of these lessons took place while immersed in the water and were accompanied by meditation activities that brought students spiritually closer to the ocean.  

The trip’s impact extended beyond spring break week. Student participant Tylie Friedland ‘27 plans to further her academic interests in marine conservation following the trip. She said: “I thought it was really cool to see our Jewish community thrive outside of our Duke campus. And to see how connected we all are in different areas of the country and even the world. I had such a great time learning about things like coral restoration and then going snorkeling to see the coral.”  

As the trip concluded, participants departed with a newfound sense of purpose and responsibility. Armed with knowledge, empathy, and a strengthened connection to their heritage, they returned home as ambassadors for change, committed to preserving our waters. 

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About Jewish Life at Duke

Jewish Life at Duke (JLD) is the hub for all things Jewish on Duke’s campus. An accredited Hillel as well as a department within Duke University’s Division of Student Affairs, Jewish Life at Duke is guided by a mission to empower Jewish students to learn and grow intellectually and spiritually; to inspire and nurture personal paths to Jewish identity; and to cultivate community and friendship. Comprising the Freeman Center for Jewish Life and the Rubenstein-Silvers Hillel, JLD takes a pluralistic approach to Judaism to ensure that all Jewish students, regardless of affiliation, are welcome and included.

100% of JLD’s operating budget comes from donations from alumni, parents, and friends.
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