To be fully honest, as a recent Bexley High School graduate, when I first heard about the Wexner service trip*, it just seemed like an opportunity to relax and have fun. While I was interested in service and helping others, by no means was I expecting such an experience.
Over the course of the one week service trip to New York, I was able to understand how harmful and detrimental natural disasters can be to a community. Going into the trip, I can remember thinking that Hurricane Sandy was so long ago; how could there still be destruction? But with the help of amazing advisors and wonderful friends, I gained a different appreciation and understanding of natural disasters while also being exposed to the Jewish values behind service work.
Throughout the trip, it was made evident the kind of service that Judaism expects. Rather than serving those in need simply for the purpose of providing essentials, we worked to achieve and preserve dignity. The sense of respect and honor in what we did gave me a clearer perspective on what service should be, and what our principles in Judaism are all about.
One particular moment that I remember was during our service at a destroyed home on the coast of Cedarhurst, Long Island. The home had been submerged by pounding waves in the Sandy storm, which left an unstable ninety-year-old grandmother and her daughter both helpless and homeless. Our service was organized and facilitated through a Jewish sponsored disaster relief organization called NECHAMA. Although many would view this as routine service outreach, it was much different because we were working to make their homes and their lives better than before.
After a week of hard work and dedication, not only did this grandmother and her daughter have the entire first floor infrastructure of a house to enjoy, but they had a new life to look at too. They had a new life that would be improved. Rather than simply throwing on drywall and moving on to the next house, NECHAMA and the Wexner Service Corps went above and beyond to endow their clients with dignity. With our help and with the help of many other volunteers, we built ramps throughout the house making it more wheel chair accessible, and we created a home that its owners loved.
Nearing the end of our service at this site, the owners surprised us with a visit. As the owner walked up the ramp tears rolled down her cheeks and an everlasting smile appeared on her face. It was a moment that I will always remember and a moment that I will cherish and draw inspiration from in my years to come. Being bound by the imperative of “tikun olam”, the Wexner Service Corps provided me with a new sense of awareness, appreciation, and respect for the world around us.
*The Wexner Service Corps (WSC), a new initiative of The Wexner Foundation, recently brought 40 Columbus Jewish high school students to New York to participate in Hurricane Sandy Relief Work. The week combined direct service in devastated homes on Long Island, a soup kitchen in Brooklyn, a community garden in Staten Island and more, with reflective Jewish learning and fun celebratory experiences at night. Consistent with the principles of The Wexner Foundation, WSC selected highly motivated applicants from across the spectrum of Jewish life in Columbus, seeking a pluralistic and leadership ready cohort. For more information about NECHAMA: The Jewish Response to Disaster, go to www.nechama.org. And for more reflections on the Wexner Service Corps’ experience check out: Naomi Benatar’s or madrich (counselor), Zach Davidson’s blog.
Jordan Hoffman, a participant in the Wexner Service Corps, graduated this month from Bexley High School. Jordan is a serious athlete and competitive skier and will be a freshman at The Ohio State University this fall.