posted 2011-02-09 13:30:07

Scenes from Haiti Comes to Hunter College

Relics on display at the Leubsdorf Art Gallery. (Photo: Daniel Szumski)
Relics on display at the Leubsdorf Art Gallery. (Photo: Daniel Szumski)
Scenes from Haiti Comes to Hunter College

Hunter Hillel puts tikkun olam into effect

Jennifer V. Fortune

Contributing Writer

It’s been more than a year since the devastating earthquake shook the nation of Haiti, yet Haiti continues to suffer its impact. Many Haitians are still homeless, sick, hungry, and hopeless.  Despite the tremendous amounts of help that Haiti has received, there is still much-needed rebuilding to be done.

In an effort to promote awareness for Haiti, Hunter Hillel partnered up with the Consulate General of Israel in New York, StandWithUs, the AVI CHAI Foundation and the UJA-Federation of New York to bring Scenes from Haiti to Hunter College. This exhibition was on display in the West Lobby of Hunter College from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4 and featured photos taken by photographer Joe Shalmoni, a volunteer with Magen David Adom and military personnel in the aid mission. These photos document the relief efforts made by Israeli medical teams to set up a field hospital only four days after the earthquake struck.

Hunter Hillel’s mission is to provide an open space for Jewish undergraduate students through events, experiences, and programming, and is a foundation of Jewish life on campus. In bringing the exhibition to Hunter, Hunter Hillel collaborated with other student organizations including the Haitian Student Association, Brothers for Excellence, and the Medical Club. Collaborations like this one bring the Hunter College community closer together and will hopefully serve as a model for future events.

To go along with the exhibition, Hunter Hillel held a reception and viewing on Feb. 3 that featured special guest speakers , Ambassador of Administrative Affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York; Nicole Titus, Haitian-born author and humanitarian; and Margarette Tropnas, Executive Director of Dwa Fanm, a Haitian women’s rights organization.

Biran presented a slideshow of the work that the Israeli doctors performed in Haiti. The doctors not only provided medical assistance, but also rescued victims from the ruins. “The main goal was to look for survivors,” he said.  “We believe that if one person’s life was saved, then it is like you have saved that entire world.”

Titus, on the other hand, interviewed a Haitian woman who lost a brother to the earthquake. As a humanitarian, Titus’ mission in life is to eradicate illiteracy and child labor in Haiti. “Haiti is at a crossroads of hope and trials, and its prior challenges have now been compounded,” she said.

The last speaker was Tropnas, who spoke on women’s rights in Haiti. She asserted that the effort to aid Haiti is an ongoing process, and that we must continue to provide support. Her motto, “together we are strong,” reinforced her message that it is only with the united force of others that the country will finally get back on its feet.

Lisa Pollack, the director of Hunter Hillel, believes that photographs speak louder than words. Having spent some time in Haiti, she stated that while many cannot visit Haiti and see the true destruction themselves, they can look at the images and see the “looks in people’s eyes, hope in the soldiers’ eyes, and desperation in the babies’ eyes ... compassion is visual.” The exhibit portrayed “what was done and what needs to be done,” she explained.

Some may wonder what the association is between Hunter Hillel and Haiti. When asked this, Amanda Nable, Director of Engagement for Hunter Hillel, explained the basic idea in Judaism called tikkun olam. “Tikkun olam means repairing the world, and this exhibit and the efforts of the Israeli doctors, is how Israel is being selfless and choosing to fix the world,” she explained. “Haiti is the chosen global responsibility for Israel and this exhibit is Hunter Hillel’s goal for the campus.”

The exhibition not only portrayed the bravery, courage, and selflessness of the Israeli medical teams and volunteers, but it also instilled a deep sense of tikkun olam in the Hunter community and inspired its viewers to lend a helping hand.