July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Like many Americans and our fellow Orthodox Jews, we were so sad to hear of the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey on the lives of the many residents of Houston, Texas. At the same time, it was so moving to see and hear stories of amazing rescues and chesed initiatives to save people and help them recover from this catastrophe.

After spending this past summer in Israel on the Yad B’Yad program, we greatly understood how one person can make an impact on the life of another. Therefore, when NCSY sent out an email asking for volunteers to travel to Houston over the Labor Day weekend to perform chesed to help our fellow Jews in Houston, we quickly responded and jumped at this opportunity.

Soon thereafter, we received an email from NCSY telling us that we were selected to be part of a group of ten traveling to Houston on Sunday morning. We were so nervous and excited to be going on this trip to Houston. We were told from the outset that we should be prepared to work very hard and to get dirty. To get ready for this trip, we prepared old clothes and work boots and prepared ourselves for several days of hard work.

Sunday morning, September 3: Be at the airport at 4:30 a.m.?!? Not typical Sunday morning wake-up time for a teenager. We set our alarm clocks for 3 a.m., and with carpool arranged, it was off to Newark airport. The airport is quite empty at that time of day so we sailed through security, and before long we were on our way to Houston.

As we drew closer to Houston, our anticipation grew. We did not know what to expect. What would we see? Would it just be devastation everywhere? What would the people be like? Would we just find everyone sitting on the ground and crying? Short answers: there was much ruin and destruction. But at the same time, we were so heartened to see such a positive attitude in the Jewish community and an abundance of chesed performed around the clock.

Driving from the airport to the Beren Academy in Houston, we were so sad to pass many houses with enormous piles of what appeared to be garbage, but which in fact were what had previously been the personal belongings of the people who we watched as they were cleaning out their houses of debris.

We soon arrived at our base, Beren Academy, where we were warmly greeted and thanked and, of course, fed doughnuts and iced coffee.

We were very quickly put to work and sent to a local home, where we broke down kitchen cabinets and walls, bathroom tiles and even granite—all of which were ruined by the flooding of the storms.

As we were cleaning up and sweeping the floors, we were amazed to see a local citizen driving around in the area and offering ice cold water bottles to everyone working not only for our NCSY group but to all homeowners around the community. Did we mention how hot and humid it was in Houston? The cold water was so appreciated by all.

After a trip back to Beren Academy for lunch, our next stop was at one of the local shuls, UOS. It was truly heartbreaking to see all of the sefarim and books that were ruined by the hurricane. It was our job to load them onto carts and push them outside and place them into a trailer. At one point, we stopped to open one of the waterlogged sefarim and learn from it. We were brought to tears by the thought that we would be the last to learn from this sefer, which would now be buried and never learned from again.

That evening we spent some time meeting with local teens to share our friendship and give them encouragement. Then back to the hotel for some well-deserved sleep.

On Monday morning, after davening and a hearty breakfast (Texans sure do love meat; sausage and eggs were a popular breakfast item), we moved on to work on our next house. Once again, a very sad scene of cleaning out a house by throwing out piles and piles of clothing and personal belongings. We then moved to a different house, where our group split up and began organizing belongings in the family’s backyard, moving furniture and generally cleaning and sweeping up. We then moved to our third house of the day where we broke down walls in the house. The walls were water logged and moldy and it was very hard work. We cleaned up the pieces but we didn’t get to finish the job.

While we were working, we heard stories of the hurricane, both good and bad. We heard about a woman who died when her house was flooded and her jewelry was stolen by looters. And we heard a story about one family that was rescued by a neighbor with his boat.

Later that evening we joined the community for dinner. We had a really special feeling of achdut, sitting together and enjoying each other’s company. It made us feel really special to be here with these people we had never met before and know that we were helping out—and that they were able to see how much we cared about the people and their community.

On Tuesday, our last day in Houston, we had early wake-up. After davening and breakfast, we had the opportunity to meet and speak with Eitan Mirwis, a fellow Teaneck resident and former Houston resident, who is very busy helping the Houston community in many ways. We were so glad that we were able to return to the house from the previous day and finish the job we had started. It was a great feeling to know that we had made an impact by helping this family. After a late lunch we left Houston and headed back home. We arrived back in New Jersey after midnight, exhausted but exhilarated by the feeling that we were able to make a difference in the lives of our fellow Jews.

We would like to thank Rabbi Ethan Katz and Aliza English for making this mission possible.

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