This weekend a group of students and teachers of our Hebrew High School program are in New Orleans, LA as part of our Siyyum Tichon Community Service Trip. This trip is one of the highlights of their Hebrew High School experience and such an important part of our program. I am very proud of these students for taking the time to travel to New Orleans together and to learn about the devastation after Hurricane Katrina many years ago. It is an annual tradition that our students go on this program so that they can help families rebuild their homes and be together for the long weekend. The students left this past Wednesday, will return on Monday and today will be concluding their second day of community service. They will spend Shabbat tonight with Jewish students at Tulane University and tomorrow with members of the Conservative synagogue in Metarie, LA. In addition to the work they are doing, there is also time for them to enjoy themselves and see some of the important sites of this great city.
Sharon Diamondstein, our Director of Congregational Learning and the Director of our Tichon Program, is with the students on the trip. We created a way for the parents to stay in touch with the group and post photos of their experience. I asked Sharon to ask the students to share some photos and thoughts with us about the experience. After completing their first day of work in New Orleans, here is what Sharon and the students wrote about the experience so far:
I wanted to share what an incredibly meaningful day today was. As you can see by the photos, each of our students were fully engaged and involved with what they were doing. Even when they weren't working, they were talking to the people working on the site with them.
Here are what they said was impactful to them:
1) Meeting the homeowner and hearing about what New Orleans means to him.
2) How the owners were helping rebuild their own homes -they were working with www.LowerNIne.org
3) Seeing all the progress that was made in one day
4) That even with all the work that's been done so far, there is still so much more to do
5) Even though they evacuated when the storm hit, they came back and want to stay in their homes
6) How many people from so many different places around the world come to volunteer
7) How much people continue to be affected by the storm - and how many people were affected
8) Not only seeing the people we were helping, but knowing that we are leaving a mark on their homes
9) Who comes to help and WHY they come - are they pausing their lives to come down here, or is volunteering here what they do
10) The extent of the racial injustice because of government policies
11) How the Lower Ninth Ward is still so decimated - there are so many open, empty lots
12) Seeing how our efforts and work are tangible
13) Seeing how our lives are so similar AND so different from the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward
A man by the name of Joann (John) is the person who's home I was working on today with Stella, Nina, Lila, and Molly. He told me that he wakes up and thanks the Lord for the ability to rebuild his house and for sending us to help him. It was a pretty powerful moment for me - the girls were up on the roof as he told me his story. I am pretty sure many people were pushed out of their comfort zones today - all in a good way. I am curious to see what tomorrow will bring.
Thank you for all your help!
Thank you to everyone at TJC who helps makes this trip happen and thank you to Sharon and the Siyyum Tichon students for representing us so well.
Rabbi Adam Feldman