Feb 6, 2009 — Winter break brought real-life lessons in the meaning of community for 30 students from Yeshiva University and other area colleges who traveled to Texas as part of the Center for the Jewish Future’s Jewish Life Coast to Coast Service Corps, sponsored by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
The mission participants met with Jewish community leaders, led educational programs at Jewish high schools and volunteered in areas devastated by Hurricane Ike.
In Galveston they visited a conservative synagogue damaged by the hurricane and, donning gloves and masks as they lifted moldy tiles, helped salvage old documents and religious articles. They cleared out the ruined interiors of homes whose owners had only hours’ notice to evacuate before the hurricane hit.
In Dallas, the group packed close to 20,000 meals at the North Texas Food Bank and met with the Bridge, a homeless facility where they were inspired by residents’ uplifting and tragic stories.
“I heard from teenagers who have lived through many difficult life experiences,” Stern junior Janna Login said about her visit to the Bridge. “They shared their strength and optimism as they explained their story and taught us a very valuable lesson. They have dusted off their hardships and are ready to rebuild their lives. These individuals will remain etched in my memory for a very long time.”
During their stint painting Houston’s Martin Luther King Boulevard, a store owner gave the students free drinks while local residents came out to express their appreciation, noting that this was the first Jewish group to volunteer in their area.
“Everywhere we went, we were warmly embraced,” Yeshiva College senior Scott Shulman said.
The group took this focus on community service to the Beren Academy in Houston and Yavneh Academy in Dallas, where they ran a program called “A Jew’s Role in the World” that encouraged the high school students to think about their relationships with the wider community.
They also met with the schools’ rabbinic leaders, who advocated reaching out to smaller Jewish communities, and spent Shabbat, joined by CJF dean Rabbi Kenneth Brander, with the Shaare Tefillah Congregation.
“The beautiful thing is that our help doesn’t end with us leaving Texas,” Stern College for Women senior Zehava Birman said. “We have now gained the knowledge to spread the word about this community with tremendous potential.”
Since returning to campus the students have begun planning volunteer activities at local food banks and other sites.
“The trip taught them that regardless of how old or experienced you are, you can be an active member of your community and make a difference,” Aliza Abrams, coordinator of the trip for the CJF, said.