As Germany's Jewish community works to absorb a record influx of immigrants from Russia and other Eastern European countries, more than two dozen Jewish students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be donating their Spring Break vacations – and hundreds of their own dollars – to help out needy Jewish families and Holocaust survivors in Berlin.

Announced on Sunday, the student-organized Alternative Spring Break 2008 trip to Berlin will be run in conjunction with the Chabad Jewish Student Center at the University of Illinois and Chabad-Lubavitch of Berlin. According to the preliminary itinerary for the mid-March trip, the students will join Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Student Center, in community service projects, meetings with fellow college students in Berlin and visits to the former sites of area concentration camps.

"There is an urgent need to bolster integral services in the Jewish and general community," said Tiechtel. "Students will work in soup kitchens, do programming for Holocaust survivors, help refugees and children at risk, clean up the Jewish cemetery, help provide health care to the needy and much more."

One member of the trip's planning committee, University of Illinois senior Jacob Shulkin, said that the idea for the trip came out of the shared experiences of many students who joined the alternative Spring Break trip coordinated by the Chabad on Campus last year. That trip saw more than 100 students from campus-based Chabad Houses nationwide go down to Argentina for a week of community service projects designed to help the local Jewish community left devastated by a severe economic downturn.

"University of Illinois students wanted to do something this year on their own," explained Shulkin, who did not participate in the Argentina trip. "There's a lot of demand out there among students who just want to help people."

Tiechtel suggested the idea after returning several months ago from the dedication ceremony of the new Rohr Chabad Center in western Berlin directed by his brother and sister-in law, Rabbi Yehuda and Leah Teichtal. He noted that many of Berlin's "new" Jews – those who made their way west from the former Soviet Union over the past decade – are finding it hard to integrate, and suffer from poverty, as well as a lack of education and health care.

The challenge facing Germany's Jewish community in the face of the new immigrants was recently chronicled by The Economist, which highlighted the work of Rohr Chabad Center and others like it in helping the new arrivals' integration.

"There's a lot to do," he stated, before using the Hebrew term referring to "good deeds." "The chance to do some chesed in Berlin is amazing. We're talking about helping to rebuild Jewish life in Germany."

For his part, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal said that college students, both those studying in Berlin and the future visitors, will play a crucial role in shaping the Jewish community's character.

"The students are going to do be doing a lot of integrating," he said. "This is a real chance to bring the West and the East together as a positive force for change."