Eighteen Ma’ayanot sophomores and juniors shed their winter jackets and rolled up their sleeves to volunteer in an NCSY/Rapids Rising mission to New Orleans on February 14-17. Their chaperones included Bailey Braun, dean of students, and Rabbi Jeremy Donath, Tanach teacher and 11th grade mashpiah, and two Ma’ayanot alumnae from the Class of 2016—Eliana Antosofsky and Nina Miller. Rabbi Ethan Katz, regional director of NCSY, coordinated the mission, which was also joined by six students from local public schools.
The first day, the group volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, fixing homes that are still in disrepair in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “We arrived close to 8 a.m. and worked all day until about 4 p.m.. It was a lot of exhausting, physical labor. I was blown away at the way the girls diligently worked hour after hour hammering in nails and schlepping boards in our efforts to build the subfloor of a new home,” said Rabbi Donath. “I am certain that the students worked harder that day than on any other day in their lives. There were no complaints and smiles all around as we slogged through the muddy terrain of the lot and hammered away.”
In the afternoon, the group toured the Lower Ninth Ward, the area was hit hardest by Katrina, followed by a New Orleans Jewish cemetery, learning about Jewish life in New Orleans and the destruction of 3,000 sefarim in Katrina. The evening brought an opportunity to visit Preservation Hall for a taste of authentic New Orleans jazz.
On Friday, the group volunteered with Green Light New Orleans, replacing older incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient models. They also taught shiurim to students at Torah Academy NOLA. The group spent a meaningful Torah and ruach-filled Shabbat with Chabad Metairie before returning home to New Jersey.
“This trip made me think a lot about my future,” reflected Eliora Kruman, a junior. “It reminded me of what was important and made me realize we can actually make a difference. We did something greater than ourselves.”
“Everyone should have this opportunity,” shared Braun. “Whether laughing with students while schlepping wood, singing in a van, watching them shine as they changed light bulbs for strangers, shared Divrei Torah to a jam-packed Chabad House or listened to live Jazz music, I felt truly privileged watching their connection to God, Yiddishkeit, themselves and each other transform and expand.”