In December 2012, a group 15 students from UIC Levine Hillel Center, Fiedler Hillel at Northwestern University, Hillel at Loyola University and Oakton Community College joined Nechama, TOVÂ and the JUF to travel to NY, as part of a mission to support the Jewish Center in Brighton Beach, which was decimated by Superstorm Sandy.
Guest blogger Leah Edelman, a UIC sophomore studying computer graphics, shares the group's story.
After finishing up a semester and stressing through finals, fifteen students decided that instead of just celebrating, we wanted to go to New York on a Sandy relief mission. Last month, we met in front of the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach, and listened as the Rabbi told us about the significance of the center to the Jewish community there. We were given masks and tools, and were assigned in groups to work in different rooms.
Prior to this mission, I, as well as probably some others, hadn't had much experience with a hammer. However, we adjusted very quickly and worked determinedly at demolishing the walls which were damaged from the storm. It actually was a lot of fun and I discovered I had a hidden talent of taking apart wooden boards and panels who knew? It was also nice to see some of the locals come to join us including families with younger children. By the time it was almost dark, the place looked totally different than it did in the morning. It's truly amazing to see how teamwork and determination can produce such impressive results.
The next day, we went to a Jewish family's house in Far Rockaways, NY, where we were greeted by the homeowner. She was overcome with gratitude when she saw all of us there ready to help out. It was very touching to see her gratefulness and high-spirits, which motivated me to want to help her even more. She was so appreciative that she brought us all pizza for lunch! That day and the next were spent tearing apart walls, taking off the carpets and floorboards, as well as taking out all the appliances that were damaged by the flood waters.
After our second day of the trip, we participated in an Ask Big Questions conversation, focusing on answering the question, "for whom we are responsible?" It was really interesting to hear different perspectives and thoughts from the rest of the group.
Before I knew it, it was time to say our goodbyes and leave for the airport. The trip was such a wonderful and inspirational experience! I know the work we did might seem miniscule compared to how much work there is yet to be done, but I like to think about it this way; "to the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world." Every effort one makes to help out is significant.
Even though we were just a small group of college students and we didn't help every person who was effected by the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, we did help out with what we could and our work did not just leave an impression on those we helped, but I would like to speak for our whole group by saying it left an impression on all of us as well. This experience enforced values of social justice and what it means to feel responsible for others. I'd like to thank TOV, NECHAMA, and Hillel for making this experience possible. I truly feel like I gained more than I gave.
To read more about and see great photos from this mission, visit UIC Hillel's Storify recap.