Since January 2006, Hillel has brought close to
3100 students to do hands-on work in the Gulf Coast. Students from over 70 campuses all over North America have traveled to New Orleans to spend their winter and spring breaks rebuilding homes, learning about the history of Hurricane Katrina, and bearing witness to the revitalization of a city.
Students from Central Florida Hillel, University of Florida Hillel, and Indiana University Hillel spent one day building a baseball field in St. Bernard Parish, LA enabling school children to practice on it the next day. When students were given the opportunity to name the field, they named it "Hillel field."
Beyond the daily physical work of painting, dry walling and installing flooring, students explored the larger issues that have contributed to the current status of the region. They toured neighborhoods where water lines from the hurricane are still visible and spoke with homeowners about their experiences. Participants got the opportunity to dialogue with Times-Picayune managing editor Dan Shea about the newspaper's role in covering the disaster and hear from Rabbi Uri Topolosky of Beth Israel Synagogue about the damage the storm brought to the Jewish community. In smaller groups, the students examined issues of poverty, racism, and community through a Jewish lens. As the week drew to a close, participants came together to plan and celebrate a spirited pluralistic Shabbat. Students returned to their campuses visibly moved and changed by their time working and learning. They brought with them a strong desire to share their experiences and the stories they have heard in order to motivate more activism in the Gulf Coast.
Two participants measure and cut a piece of drywall which they installed in a house in the Holy Cross neighborhood in New Orleans.
In 2006, students worked in Biloxi, Mississippi roofing homes that had been damaged by the winds and flooding.
In 2007, students gutted homes in neighborhoods around New Orleans.
In 2008, students moved on to the rebuilding stages of painting and dry walling in the St. Bernard Parish, Broadmoor, Holy Cross neighborhoods around New Orleans.
In 2009, the rebuilding has continued in these neighborhoods and more. Some families have settled back into day-to-day life in New Orleans, but others have just returned to rebuild their homes.
Read Student Reflections
Read One Student's Letter
Hillel's New Orleans Alternative Break has been generously supported by UJA Federation of New York, United Jewish Communities, Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, Bnai Brith International, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, The M.B. and Edna Zale Foundation, The Samuel and Helene Soref Foundation, and The Sol Goldman Charitable Trust.