It was a most incongruous sight: a Chabad rabbi sounding the shofar in the dusty frame of a barn, in Bethel Acres, Oklahoma. In the audience, among the JUF TOV and Jewish Disaster Response Corps volunteers, was an eclectic mix of local and faith based groups. Firefighters, representatives from Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church, and Chickasaw Nation were all gathered for the annual 9/11 service project kickoff, coordinated by the New York Says Thank You Foundation (NYSTY). Each year, NYSTY rallies hundreds of volunteers in service to honor the victims of 9/11 and pay it forward to communities around the country that helped rebuild New York 13 years ago.
This year's project is 1 Day Ranch, a horse rescue, therapeutic riding, and animal educational center destroyed by E4 tornadoes last summer.
The shofar's beckoning call sounded and everyone was captivated. The sound of the shofar, said Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, is a reminder of our responsibility, our obligation to justice and tikun olam (repairing the world). It is a call to action. And here we are, I thought. Eight TOV volunteers had risen to the occasion to do our small part in helping repair a very broken world.
And while raising a barn may not come naturally to many of us, the desire to help was overwhelming. Eight newly minted construction workers were intent on building as much of 1 Day Ranch as humanly possible in two days. "We felt truly united as one in our TOV goal," said Dr. Donna Turek, professor of Criminal Justice, a volunteer in Oklahoma." Everyone worked and worked as hard as possible. Our group was spectacular in that way. Every single one of us was eager to assist in any way we could."
"This was a very moving and inspiring experience," said Sy Sarowtiz, a retired engineer. "The friendliness and cooperation I experienced was only matched by the incredible results achieved. On Thursday morning, when I first saw the barn, only the crude outside frame was basically supported. When I left Friday by lunchtime, the roof was virtually complete, the outside siding was on, and most of the animal stalls were complete. The barn looked beautiful, and I was very proud of the small part I played in this enormous accomplishment."
This is what the spirit of New York Says Thank You is all about. "We are honored to help Oklahomans rebuild just like they supported us 13 years ago following the tragedy of 9/11," stated Jeff Parness, founder and chairman of New York Says Thank You Foundation. "We are also thrilled to…support this inspiring effort which truly pays tribute to the volunteer spirit, kindness, and humanity that united the nation on 9/12."
Yael Brunwasser is the director of Volunteer Services (TOV) for the Jewish United Fund Metropolitan Chicago.