For the very first time, New Jersey NCSY, Ma’ayanot and Yachad joined forces on a chesed mission to New Orleans on March 6-10. “NJ NCSY has run close to 90 chesed missions with various schools but this was our first mission with Yachad,” said Aliza English, assistant regional director at NJ NCSY. “We are extremely proud of this mission and what was accomplished. Both the Ma’ayanot students and Yachad members added so much to this experience, setting the bar for future missions.”
Ten students from Ma’ayanot, four Yachad members and six advisers attended the mission, which included three jam-packed days of volunteering, touring and bonding. On the first day, the students rolled up their sleeves and helped build a house in the Seventh Ward with Habitat for Humanity. Jobs included digging a front path, sanding and painting shutters and railings, installing storm shutters and building a fence.
“I liked [building the house] because we got to help people in need,” said Yachad member Yaffa Elyakin.
The group then visited the Lower Ninth Ward and learned about the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. English led a discussion about philanthropy and the value of contributing one’s time. They also visited the Jewish cemetery of Congregation Beth Israel, where siddurim and sifrei Torah destroyed by Katrina were buried.
On the second day, the group volunteered with Green Light New Orleans, a grassroots environmental group that installs energy-saving light bulbs in people’s homes. “I learned that chesed is not only about the big things like building a house. Chesed is also about small things, for example changing a light bulb or making someone feel valuable—simple and easy acts that last and make an impact both for the giver and the receiver,” said Tamar Berman, a junior.
“The activities we did on this New Orleans mission really made me appreciate all the basics I have in my life and feel so grateful for everything that I have,” added sophomore Zahava Kalb. “I realized that there are so many people in this world who need my help and the small acts of kindness I can do can really be life changing for them and ultimately life changing for me as well.”
Rachel Landesman, a junior, reflected, “Stepping outside of my comfort zone on this trip heightened my awareness of the world around me. I was able to meet different types of people in a new setting, and in the process of learning about their lives, I discovered more about myself.”
On Shabbat, the group davened, enjoyed meals and brought ruach to Congregation Anshe Sfard, a historic shul built in 1925. Throughout the trip, Ma’ayanot students bonded with their Yachad peers. They enjoyed New Orleans’ kosher restaurants, a fun night at Rock N Bowl, and a carriage ride through the French Quarter. Said Yachad member Julia Miller, “I liked making friends with the Ma’ayanot girls.”