Ten student leaders from the New York Region of NCSY flew to Texas over Presidents’ Day Weekend to volunteer in a city still recovering from flooding. The disaster relief mission to Taylor, Texas was part of a new leadership program developed by NCSY’s New York Region to meet the needs of students looking to build their volunteer experience outside the confines of the classroom.
“This program allowed our teens to take the learning and discussions they do in our various programs and put it into action,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Kohl, regional director of New York NCSY. “When they actually do the hard work that chesed and tikun olam often requires, it’s no longer simply intellectual. It becomes a transformative experience that makes lasting impressions on their future Jewish engagement as adults.”
NCSY is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union.
Led by staff members DL Lavin and Avi Warman, students came from various high schools around New York including the Special Music School in Manhattan; SAR Academy in Riverdale; Westchester Hebrew High School; Medgar Evans College Prep High School; Hewlett High School; Midreshet Shalhevet; the Sinatra School for the Performing Arts and Oceanside High School.
The students flew down to the Lone Star State determined to make a difference.
Craig Gilman, 16, of Oceanside, didn’t want to miss the hands-on opportunity to directly help someone else. “I wanted to go because I saw we could make a difference for one family,” he said. “We weren’t going to simply send money and wonder what good came of our actions. I knew this would be a wonderful opportunity for me to grow as a person.”
An 11th grader at Oceanside High School, Craig participated on The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ) two years ago, which sparked his increased participation within NCSY. Since then, he has become active at regionals and was encouraged by his mentor Avi Warman, Central Long Island NCSY chapter director, to apply for a slot on the delegation.
As soon as they arrived in Texas, the NCSYers began working on a house that had been severely damaged by flooding. With sturdy shoes and working attire and some help from construction managers, the delegation spent two full days fixing up a single home. They repainted the house, trimmed windows and removed decayed wood from the house walls.
“There was so much decay,” reflected Ruthi Wasserman, 16, from SAR Academy in Riverdale.
“The NCSYers were prepared to help in whatever manner was needed; they understood that what they were there to do wouldn’t be glamorous or fun, but would make a difference in someone’s life,” said DL Lavin, Westchester chapter director.
As Shabbat approached, the New Yorkers travelled to Dallas to spend the weekend with the local NCSY chapter, Yachad, and Bnei Akiva.
“Spending Shabbat in a small community, the teens were blown away by the warmth of the community—they took for granted that in the New York area, there are so many Jews,” noted Jon Ackerman, managing director of NCSY’s New York Region..
The Texas mission made Ruthi Wasserman feel more appreciative of what she has. “Here I’m able to attend a private high school, while individuals have no ability to live in their own homes—there are so many aspects of life that are out of our control, it’s crazy. But there are people like us who care and want to help.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.