As we are aware, countless families in the NY/NJ area recently lost their homes and possessions to Hurricane Sandy.
A lack of power, bad weather, and the sheer volume of the damage has severely impaired many families’ efforts at cleaning out their homes, and beginning the process of rebuilding their lives.
In a wonderful statement of unity, a group of volunteers spanning Harrisburg’s entire Jewish community (and beyond), spent Wednesday, 11/14/12 in Staten Island, NY helping hurricane victims in a very hands-on fashion.
Starting at 4:30 AM, our group met at the JCC to load our bus with an incredible amount of supplies and clothing which our community had generously donated for the hurricane victims.
Upon boarding the bus and taking down each volunteer’s name (we didn’t want to leave anyone in NY), I was struck at the diversity of our group. We truly represented the broad and diverse nature of Harrisburg’s Jewish community. From an excited bunch of The Silver Academy’s 7th graders to a hard-working volunteer in his 80’s, our group was also comprised of all ages.
In the days leading up to our mission, a rabbinic colleague of mine helped me contact an energetic Josh Commer of the Young Israel of Staten Island, NY. That large synagogue, has become one of the vital command centers in assisting Staten Island residents who were hard-hit by the storm. In the days following Hurricane Sandy, families of all religions, backgrounds, and circumstances who had been devastated by the storm, began reaching out to Josh’s synagogue for assistance with their homes.
As soon as Josh learned that he’d have over 30 able-bodied volunteers looking for work on Wednesday, he sprung into action, and found appropriate jobs for each member of our group. After a quick breakfast, we were hard at work.
The 7th graders were incredibly helpful in helping the synagogue sort through all of the donated goods and clothing which had come in. After all, those items can only be distributed once they are properly organized.
The rest of us were split up into work groups of 4-5 people, and assisted families (both Jewish and non-Jewish) whose homes had sustained hurricane damage ranging from flooded basements, all the way to total loss.
After a solid day’s work (the day went by surprisingly quickly), it was time to board our bus and return to Harrisburg. Thanks to a Kosher pizza shop which delivered nine of their delicious pies to our comfortable coach bus, we all enjoyed a much-welcomed treat on our trip back home.
During our drive home, many volunteers stepped up to the microphone at the front of the bus and shared some of their unique reflections of the day. I found it fascinating that each group of volunteers had taken in such different sights, conditions, and experiences at our respective sites.
While our efforts certainly went a long way in helping others, I think that each member of our group gained even more from the rewarding feelings we experienced.
As stated above, this was a true Harrisburg Jewish community-wide effort, and I’d like to thank the many people who helped this all come together so quickly:
Each of our community’s rabbis, Dr. Ed Beck, Andrea Weikert, W&L Sales, Executive Coach Inc. (who partnered in our relief efforts by offering us a highly discounted rate on our bus rental), the many volunteers who found a way to be a part of this mission, the many people who donated clothing and supplies, the Young Israel of Staten Island for all their work in helping us assist their neighbors, and the generous sponsors who enabled our group of volunteers to offer a helping hand to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
(It’s still not too late to become a sponsor of this mission. Please contact the JFGH’s Andrea Weikert at email@example.com for more details.)
May we always find ways to engage in good work together as a united Jewish community.
Rabbi Akiva Males
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.