July 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Ma’ayanot’s Annual Rapid-Response NCSY Mission Visits NOLA

On Wednesday, February 22, twenty-four eager Ma’ayanot students (myself included) flew out of Newark Airport, accompanied by three NCSY advisors as well as Regional Director Rabbi Eitan Katz, and our teachers Rabbi Zev Prince and Ms. Sarah Gordon. What followed were four jam-packed, chesed-filled days in the spirited city of New Orleans. As an extra-special addition, eight students from local public schools were able to join us on this mission through NCSY.

On our first day, we headed out bright and early to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. We helped build a house for a family whose home was wiped out during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. We spent the entire day hammering nails, measuring and cutting wood, installing insulation and various other tasks. Many of us learned several new skills. Any time we needed more motivation, we simply thought of the family who would receive a home due to our efforts. Fellow junior Hadas Krasner said, “At the end of the day, it was incredible to look at the house and see everything that we accomplished. The seemingly insignificant tasks really added up to make a beautiful home.”

The group then traveled to the Lower Ninth Ward, where we saw many houses that still haven’t been rebuilt since Katrina. We also drove to the building that formerly housed the Beth Israel Community Synagogue of New Orleans. During Katrina, this historic shul was completely destroyed and nearly 3,000 sefarim, including seven sifrei Torah, were ruined as well. We visited the cemetery where these sefarim were buried. This was a very unique and interesting experience since most of us had never seen a grave for such a large quantity of sefarim before.

On Friday morning, we headed to the renowned Café Du Monde for some delicious beignets and then, covered in powdered sugar, we headed out to volunteer with Green Light New Orleans. This organization swaps out light bulbs in lower income homes for longer-lasting, more energy-efficient bulbs that save a lot of money. Each of our four vans went to multiple houses to swap light bulbs. “Green Light really allowed me to not only help the people of New Orleans but also communicate with them. We got to walk into people’s homes and see on a very personal level how the members of these communities live,” said Rachel Malek, a junior.

We then spent a meaningful Shabbat at the newly rebuilt Congregation Beth Israel, where we met many people in the New Orleans Jewish community and continued to grow closer as a group. We shared divrei Torah, sang songs and played many group-bonding games. “Being able to bring Torah, chesed and singing to a small community made us all feel so special and made a huge impact on my appreciation for having the ability to live in such a large Jewish community at home,” said Leora Adler, a junior. After a group havdalah, we went out to experience the Mardi Gras culture of New Orleans at a family parade.

Ma’ayanot and NCSY do an astounding job of planning these missions every year, allowing us to do a lot of chesed in communities that need it, while allowing us to truly experience the culture and history of the city. I cannot wait for future Ma’ayanot students to have the opportunity to share the same amazing experiences on missions to come.

By Adira Levine, Ma’ayanot junior

 

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