Over Martin Luther King Weekend, I was fortunate to travel with kids from my temple and two other neighboring synagogues to New Orleans, Louisiana on a service trip. In this photo, you’ll see the fourteen kids from our temple, Temple Emanu-El.
That’s me in the baseball cap and black sweatshirt. I had a wonderful experience and was especially lucky to have some of my oldest friends with me. I was also happy our chaperones included Rabbi Tick Brill, who officiated at my Bar Mitzvah, and Missy Bell, who is head of Youth Learning at our synagogue.
As you might have guessed, we helped communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago. Since I’m 13, I don’t remember when Katrina hit. But we learned that the storm brought winds of up to 140 miles per hour and had an impact across 90,000 miles of land!
Katrina caused over $100 billion dollars worth of property damage and killed roughly 1,500 people. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana and neighboring states were displaced from their homes. As you can see in the picture below from Wikipedia, people were forced to the roofs of their houses to avoid the flood waters.
My service trip was four days long, and our first volunteer task took place on Saturday, which was hot and humid. But we were still excited to help build houses. My first assignment was to insulate and sand walls. By the end of the shift, we insulated 75% of the room and made some progress sanding the drywall. Once this house is done, it will be sold to a teacher at a 20% discount to market value, because the non-profit group we were helping out believes teachers make the biggest difference in improving lives.
The next two days we worked on a community center in an urban area of NOLA. I was assigned to a group that built boxes to hold flowers. There were several other groups doing different tasks, like helping organize the flowers, bringing out soil bags, putting the soil in the boxes, building the boxes, and painting the boxes. We also painted the gates to a community center. I particularly liked filling in the soil and painting gates because it gave me a sense of accomplishment.
Looking back on the weekend, I am very appreciative of this opportunity. I learned some new skills, like insulating walls. I made some new friends and reconnected with others I hadn’t seen in years. I had fun, including going bowling (and getting a strike!). But I have to say, without a doubt, the best part was helping make NOLA a better place.
This is a historic city with a unique culture. It is the center of jazz music and Creole cuisine. If you haven’t tried a beignet, which is a deep fried cousin of the doughnut, you don’t know what you are missing! New Orleans is a special city and should be cherished. I’m proud to have done a small part to help it recover from a devastating natural disaster.