As part of their summer vacations, 10 students from Bruriah participated in the six-day New Jersey NCSY Girls Mission to Puerto Rico—Fred and Rose Distenfeld Chesed Missions to help rebuild areas of Puerto Rico damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017. The students were part of a larger group of 25 made up of students from Bruriah, Ma’ayanot, The Frisch School and various public schools. The students were accompanied by Sarah Kesler, college guidance counselor at Bruriah, and Rabbi Andrew Markowitz of Bruriah and his wife Dr. Sara Markowitz. “Puerto Rico was an experience like no other. I’ve learnt so much about myself and the nature of other people and I’m really sorry it’s over,” said Maya Ratner (Bruriah, ‘19). The students volunteered for activities as varied as handing out teddy bears, cookies and drinks to children in Escuela Manuel Gaetan Barbosa in San Juan, to weeding a garden on Abner’s Farm “Finco El Reverdecer” in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
The work that was accomplished would have taken Abner three-to-four months to finish because he only has three workers who work only four hours a day because of the extreme heat. As Rina Kamara, (Bruriah, ‘19) said, “The light that we brought to the community was amazing. It was definitely a life changing experience.” A group of volunteers repainted three basketball courts at the Mental Services Administration Health and Addiction in Bayamón Puerto Rico. Rivka Moskowitz (Bruriah, ‘19) said, “Despite the sweltering heat and physical intensity of some of the work that we did, we all pushed ourselves hard for our genuine desire to help people and make the world a better place, even though we had simply just met the people we were helping and will probably never see them again.” Another group painted a home of an activist in the community who has spent most of her time helping others with the hurricane relief. Chavy Weisz (Bruriah, ‘19) said, “The best part was seeing the look on a 7-year old when he came home from school and saw his whole house painted. I’ll never forget the look of happiness on his face.” The last day of farming spent at Siembra Tres Vidas in Aibonito, Puerto Rico was spent in such a hopeful experience of actually being able to replant numerous seedlings. Miri Gelernter (Bruriah, ‘19) is fulfilled knowing that “I enhanced the lives of so many people in Puerto Rico.”
Besides the physical relief the mission provided, the students brought a vibrant spirituality to the Shabbos they spent in the Chabad of Puerto Rico, with divrei Torah and zemirot and dancing after havdalah. Tziporah Zwickler (Bruriah, ‘19) summed up the mission this way, “Everywhere we went, people were thanking us and taking pictures of our group. Many of the people we met were shocked to hear that 20 teenage girls would spend their last few days of their coveted summer vacation painting houses and farming for others.”