July 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Bruriah Joins NCSY on a Mission to Houston

Bright and early on a recent Monday morning, I joined eight other Bruriah juniors and seniors, Debbie Oratz and NJ NCSY Regional Director Rabbi Ethan Katz, as we boarded a flight to Houston for a life-changing three days.

The seniors Gila Alter (Teaneck), Rachelli Benoff (New Milford), Tova Braun (Long Branch) and Chana Rutner (West Orange), and juniors Sorah Bayla Fink (Bergenfield), Avigail Sheinbein (Bergenfield), Shaina Weinrib (Teaneck), Sarah Yager (Bergenfield) and myself were among the approximately 100 Bruriah girls who volunteered to go to Houston. Those of us who went were chosen by lots.

The trip was planned by Rabbi Katz, who was a master at helping us make this experience have a tremendous impact on our lives.

After arriving, davening and eating lunch, we headed to our first job, mucking the house of a woman who had been living there for 43 years until Harvey flooded it with three feet of water and destroyed it. We banged down walls, tore down cabinets and took everything out of both her kitchen and bathrooms. It was hard work, especially in the 90-degree heat and humidity, but very rewarding as she thanked us from the bottom of her heart.

Following a rough day of mucking a home, we returned to our hotel. Upon our return, Rabbi Katz asked us: If God forbid we had only time to take three things from our homes before it was destroyed, what would we take? It was a hard question to answer but we came up with items like special siddurim, pictures or cards written by special people in our lives. We chose sentimental, meaningful things that had emotional value to them. It was a heavy way to look at our lives. Sarah Yager commented that “she didn’t realize how much she has until she saw how much others don’t have.”

The next morning we headed to the shul, United Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) to get a glimpse of the destruction that befell the Jewish community. Outside, there were two dumpsters full of sefarim that were destroyed and we closed their eyes and imagined how we would feel if our precious siddur or sefer were sitting in that dumpster waiting to be buried.

Later that day, we went to a low-income neighborhood and walked around, knocking on everyone’s doors and filling out forms that asked what people needed (food, hygiene, mucking, etc.), how much their house was affected by the flood and if they had gotten help. We heard so many heartfelt stories about the storm. After speaking to many people, we went to the Civic Center, a center that is helping the neighborhood deal with the hurricane, and packed up supplies which we then delivered to local people. We have never seen people more appreciative. The kiddush Hashem we made was amazing; a lot of the people we helped rarely interact with Jews.

We next delivered beds to a family that had been living in an apartment because their house, and everything in it, was destroyed. Their kids had complained that their necks hurt from sleeping on the floor for a month, but we were able to help them by giving them beds to sleep on. One of the people we delivered to said that he thinks it’s amazing how all Orthodox Jews act like brothers and are always looking out for one another.

The Civic Center was the last stop on this chesed mission. We packed more boxes for people in need. Although the center was able to help them, it had run out of certain things, such as deodorant, soap and toothpaste, because of the high demand. Sorah Bayla Fink said, “I felt so fortunate and grateful that I have these basics,” and left feeling that she wished she could give so much more than she had that day.

We all remarked that the trip really opened our eyes to how other people in the world live. We learned about appreciating what we have because there are people who don’t have a lot. We also learned how teens can really make a difference and spread the Jewish name. Said Oratz, “I was inspired by the girls who were like angels doing a kiddush Hashem!”

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