On January 13th, a group of teens left Chicago to go volunteer in Houston, Texas. Each person made the decision to leave their comfort zone and give their time to help a community in need. Along the way, everyone made memories, helped those in need, and learned valuable lessons. Here's a rundown of our amazing trip with
NCSY and JSU!
On our first day in Houston, we went to volunteer with SBP, an organization that rebuilds homes that were destroyed from natural disasters. We painted, built window frames, and assisted the SBP volunteers. Everyone had a great time learning how to use power tools and using new skills to help a home get rebuilt. After our work with SBP, we sat in a small patch of grass by the house we were rebuilding. Rabbi Oran’s talk helped us connect with our recipient and others impacted by Hurricane Harvey. He asked us each to think about our very own homes being destroyed and told us to think about two items, only two, that we would take with us before fleeing our homes. We then went around in a circle to share, quickly realizing how incredibly impossible making such a decision was. This allowed us to better understand and envision the level of destruction and loss the people of Houston faced both during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
After we finished our work on the house, we returned to our hotel and prepared for Shabbat. Our amazing Rabbis helped us welcome Shabbos with great food, song and prayer. The experience was a whole new level of spirituality for many of us. Throughout Shabbat we did many small activities to open our souls to Hashem. The days were filled with not only prayers but with small purposeful opportunities to rethink the meaning of life. Who would have known how uplifting a 5 minute meditation could be? This was a very emotional time for many of us and brought us closer together as a group. In those moments even though many of us had just met, we were able to share very personal and deep personal emotions and come together as a group to support and console each other. We spent Saturday playing games, relaxing, and getting closer as a group. We also are given opportunities to explore our connection with God and with our own Jewish identities.We ended Shabbat with delicious food and songs from our talented Rabbis. After Havdalah, the group went to the Kemah boardwalk where we went on plenty of rides. We ate some great pizza and then went to bed, excited for the next day's volunteering.
On Sunday, we went to the Houston Food Bank. It was our job to look at the food and make sure it was acceptable, meaning that it was not expired or damaged. We broke off into small groups that made assembly lines, some people checking dates and others wiping off products. Along with all the other volunteers, our group helped package 6,000 meals, or enough food to feed a family of six for a year. Our Rabbis talked to us about how much of an impact we can make with just a little bit of our time, and how it is our responsibility to put good into the world. After we finished our shift at the food bank, the group went to see the Houston Space Center, which was a lot of fun!
After, we went to buy food that we would put into bags for the homeless. On our last day, we went to plant food at the community garden which coincided with Tubish Vishvat. This was a great and educational experience. Everyone had a lot of fun planting different foods! We also packaged the food that we bought the previous day into small lunch bags to give to the homeless. The group went to walk around the neighborhood and look for people who were in need of help. We found a community of people living together, and got the opportunity to talk to them and give them something to eat. Going to a homeless community and being able to see how they live was a humbling experience. The process of being able to hand food to those in need and seeing the great gratitude they felt in turn filled us with a different type of gratitude. It allowed us to realize that giving back to those in need not only makes a difference to them, but also has a profound impact on us. We feel full from witnessing their gratitude and knowing that we helped make a difference, no matter how small.
Anytime you give back it reminds you how fortunate you are. You feel pride and are reconnected with your Jewish identity and the principles of tzedakah and chesed. After every mitzvah we completed it came with a meaningful and emotional discussion led by our Rabbis and trip advisors. They incorporated stories and lessons into each volunteer project that gave us a better understanding of the hardships the recipients experienced, providing a more meaningful perspective on the impact of our work. Our Rabbis provided an extremely moving ending to our trip when they took us to the site of a synagogue destroyed during Hurricane Harvey. They reminded in this holy place that nothing is forever and to always cherish moments in everyday life. They allowed us to reflect on what the trip meant to each of us before asking us to share with the group. This final moment brought us even closer together as we said our final goodbyes and shared how different yet uniquely special the trip impacted each of us.
This trip was an incredible experience. We learned the importance of giving back to the community, of helping people in need, and of putting good into the world. We also learned about Judaism and how it was connected to volunteer work. We learned how important it was for Jews to put good into the world, and how each of them has the potential to help so many people. For anyone who wants to experience a truly life changing trip that will act as a catalyst to empower you to become a better person, a better Jew, and a better member of society, look to join any of the upcoming NCSY trips. You will not regret it!
NCSY and JSU's next relief mission trip is to New Orleans, March 3-7, 2022. Apply at midwestncsy.org/reliefmissions. The cost of the trip is $599. Springboard, Chicago’s hub for Jewish teen programs, is excited to offer Access Grants to teens who are participating in a multi-day Jewish experience for the first-time! Access Grants will cover 50% of the cost of the NCSY Relief Mission up to $200, bringing down the price to $399. Please complete the form below and then apply for the access grant at https://www.juf.org/accessgrants.
About the Authors:
Simone is a current junior at Jones College Prep, where she plays on the varsity lacrosse team. When lacrosse is not in season, she plays on a club team. She is also on the Model UN and Mock Trial teams at school. Simone enjoys reading and spending time with her friends and she loves volunteering with Cradles to Crayons!
Bella is a current freshman at Glenbrook North High School, where she is on JV Poms and Orchesis. Bella is a competitive Rhythmic Gymnast out this season due to injury. Bella has been an active volunteer with Maot Chitim of Greater Chicago and the JUF with her family since age 5 and is an active member of NorthShore NCSY.