April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In late February, I went on a mission with my school, Ma’ayanot, and NCSY to New Orleans to help rebuild the community, which was still in need of restoration 10 years after it was hit and decimated by Hurricane Katrina. It was disheartening to see all the derelict houses still in need of repairs, but we were uplifted knowing that we would be building new houses. While it was an inspiring and incredible trip, I never anticipated that I’d be back so soon, doing the contrary: demolishing.

I expected to spend the last two weeks of summer finishing homework and unwinding before I began a stressful junior year at Ma’ayanot. Never did I imagine that instead of relaxing in my cool apartment, I’d be sweating in a dilapidated house ripping out drywall. While some might think of this as the antithesis of a “fun” summer, when I got an email from NCSY offering me the opportunity to return to Louisiana to assist in relief work after heavy flooding, I jumped at the chance.

We were a group of 10 girls and three advisers. The trip had been arranged only a week before by NCSY, who worked quickly to arrange all the details and to gather a group of students who could assist. As soon as we landed in Louisiana, we drove straight to work. As we drove past houses that appeared to be unscathed, I wondered where all of the damage that I had heard about was. As we turned the corner, however, we were met with an appalling sight. The waters had receded, leaving behind destroyed houses and displaced families. In front of every house was a pile of rubble, debris, broken furniture and ruined clothes. We could see people’s possessions, essentially their lives, thrown out in these piles, lying in the open, creating a terrible stench and attracting flies.

We partnered with Nechama, a Jewish response team, to work on the houses. We were given masks to wear while inside the mold-infested houses as well as gloves and tools. Any salvageable furniture was brought out of the house and placed on the front yard. Unlike my previous trip, instead of rebuilding houses, we tore the insides down. All the drywalling had to be ripped out so new ones could be installed. By the end of the day, all the walls were torn down, leaving only the frame of the house. Like so many other houses, all the torn-down plaster and sheetrock were thrown into a pile at the curb. We met the owner of one of the houses. Her overjoyed expression when she saw us working made all the hard labor worth it. We were saddened, however, to learn that this woman was sleeping on her porch swing while her house was in abeyance.

I was appalled by how much damage water could do. In less than two weeks, a flood had destroyed over 146,000 homes and affected the lives of over 100,000 people. I realized, however, that water is not always bad. My school’s name, Ma’ayanot, translates as “wellsprings.” While floods are devastating, wellsprings are a desirable and beneficial source of water. We came from Ma’ayanot to do relief work after tragedy struck. Although we could only work on a couple of houses, we made an immense impact on the lives of the homeowners. I am extremely grateful that NCSY gave me this opportunity to assist in the relief work, and I hope we positively affected the lives of the residents of Baton Rouge.

By Temima Yellin

 

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