July 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

NJ NCSY Sponsors Chesed Mission to Detroit

Editor’s note: Per the author’s request, names mentioned in this article are pseudonyms for real people.

Hello, my name is Rafi Jacobs. I am a student at the Frisch School. I would like to expound on a truly memorable experience that I took part in last month. Sponsored by New Jersey NCSY, Frisch invited 14 rising juniors to take part in a Chesed Mission to build homes in Detroit, Michigan March 31–April 3.

To say that our four-day stay in the area was an experience I would never forget would be an understatement. Our mission for the weekend was to build houses in an impoverished neighborhood in Macomb County under the tutelage of Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity is an eleemosynary institution whose primary focus is building houses for needy members of impoverished communities. However, HFH does not flat-out give away these houses. To be considered, one has to prove that he or she is invested in maintaining a stable life, and is deserving of potentially owning a house.

We were fortunate to meet one prospective home owner who just happened to be a phenomenal human being. Linda Jackson has lived in project housing in penurious neighborhoods her entire life. As a single mother, she had to pick up two jobs to support her son. After being declined by HFH twice, she stated on numerous occasions that she has only God to thank for being approved this time around. Habitat for Humanity required her to put 240 hours into a home in order for her to be able to select from among three newly constructed houses. Our NCSY group was fortunate enough to work alongside such a friendly woman.

For a small group of 17-year-old boys and girls, we were given the arduous task of painting the entire house and installing numerous appliances. As a group, we spent two full days painting, nailing down styrofoam insulation and carrying wood planks. I think I speak for all of us when I say, not only did we grow much closer together as a group, but carving a path for someone like Linda to own a house really made us further appreciate what we have.

Although the above-mentioned experience is phenomenal in itself, our wonderful experience did not end in Detroit. On Friday morning, after concluding our service for Habitat for Humanity, we packed our bags and headed south to cross the US-Canada border. Surprisingly, the trek to Windsor, Ontario in Canada was only a short 15-minute drive. Upon entering Windsor, a few of my friends and I took a light jog around the town. Along our run, we were treated to beautiful scenery and an absolutely picturesque waterfront. After returning to the hotel and getting ready for Shabbos, we were told about the unfortunate history of the fading Jewish Community in Windsor.

At one point Congregation Shaarey Zedek was one of the most flourishing synagogues in all of Canada. Opening its doors in 1893, Shaarey Zedek is the oldest shul in the area. Due to its size and location, Shaarey Zedek was able to accept hundreds of European Holocaust refugees who had been rejected entry from the United States. Over the course of the last seven decades this population has shrunk due to numerous factors including intermarriage and many people moving out of the area. The New Jersey NCSY was fortunate enough to take part in the Shaar Hashomayim minion and eat Shabbat dinner with the few congregants of the shul. During our meal Rabbi Shlomo Galperin, the lone rabbi of the once enormous shul, explained to us that without our presence, gathering 10 men to form a minion for Kabbalat Shabbat would be extremely difficult.

His words, while mentioned in passing, echoed a powerful message. As a young man living in Englewood, New Jersey, I have never had to worry about forming a minion. I have never had to worry about finding kosher food or attending an Orthodox yeshiva day school. With Orthodox Jews surrounding me at every corner, it is easy to take for granted the accessibility I have in maintaining my religiosity on an everyday basis. The contrast in the accessibility of maintaining religious zeal in Windsor is astounding. With no kosher food or yeshivas in the area, it makes sense why so many have gone off the Derech. I am deeply appreciative to the Windsor community for opening my eyes to a vital issue that I am sure adversely affects countless Jewish communities across the globe.

I’d like to conclude by thanking the Habitat for Humanity of Macomb County, New Jersey NCSY, the gracious Jewish community of Windsor and all of the interesting and amazing people we met along the way. Thanks to your hospitality and benevolence, I am now able to better appreciate what I have. This, coupled with my newfound eagerness to help the less fortunate, has truly enhanced my sense of Tikkun Olam and has truly shaped my moral compass for the better.

By Rafi Jacobs, Junior at The Frisch School

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