My Service Learning Trip to New
November , 2011
By Charlie Saperstein
All 21 of us – 9 kids, 9 parents, Mindy Davids, and our two guides - boarded the bus
completely unsure of what to expect. Many of us had no idea the extent of the
damage over six years later. When we entered the lower ninth ward, we were
somewhat shocked. There were still some houses destroyed and just left there,
and many homes were half built or even less than that. There were open spaces
with overgrown grass or just piles of dirt where you could tell there used to
be a house.
Many of the houses
had a spray painted X on
them with numbers inside that we learned showed how many people were found dead
inside the house during Katrina. In contrast, there were also some nice,
colorful, fully built houses, and the famous Brad Pitt houses, paid for by, you
guessed it, Brad Pitt, that looked like modern works of art.
When we arrived at the Church in
the lower ninth ward we were greeted by Warrenetta who was going to organize us
into places to work. There was landscaping, painting, working on fences, demolition,
and digging up ground to put in a sidewalk. We split up into four groups with
our parents – Ellie and Lily did the landscaping and painting, Zachary and
Jonah worked on fences, Noah and Mason took out outlets, nails, and drywall, and
Zach, Ean and I dug some holes.
When we arrived at the house that
we were working on, we were “greeted” by Elizabeth, who wondered aloud “Where
are all of the men? This is a man’s job.” For some 20 minutes, we were
listening to Elizabeth’s
story, waiting for some shovels. I think that the six of us – three middle
school boys and our moms - were probably thinking the same thing to ourselves
that whole time – how in the world were we supposed to make a sidewalk out of
this? All you could see were dirt and grass. There were mounds of dirt at least
four feet tall, and we could only see a singular corner of the sidewalk. But at
the same time, we were all thinking, let’s prove her and ourselves wrong.
Ervin (Elizabeth’s husband)
finally came with the shovels. We must have looked a little ridiculous – six
Upper East Side Jews, completely unfamiliar with those tools, attempting to
conquer the difficult task ahead of us. We started on the pile of dirt staring
us in the face. We were all skeptical that we would finish that one pile of
dirt in two days, but we prevailed in an hour. We were hard at work with our
shovels and pickaxes and got into a rhythm. We loosened up the dirt with the
pick axe, and tossed it into the big hole with the shovel. Loosen, toss,
loosen, toss. We did that until that giant hole next to us turned into flat
land and where the pile of dirt once was, there was now the old sidewalk, the
one that was there before Katrina.
That’s when we really started to hit it off with Elizabeth and Ervin. Elizabeth was
flabbergasted that we got so much work done, and Ervin became the ultimate
pick-axing guru. By the end of the day we were already close with them. That
night we regrouped with Josh and Andrea (our guides) for a reflection and
enjoyed a delicious meal.
day was back to work at their house. We worked hard all day to complete the
sidewalk, and we did it! The sidewalk stretched all the way around two sides of
That evening, we were lucky enough
to go to Touro Synagogue, located in the city of New Orleans. It was large and beautiful, and
we were pleasantly surprised to find out how similar the service was to our own.
It really was interesting to see how even so far away, the traditions are so similar,
but they have their own twist.
Saturday we had our own Shabbat
morning service in the hotel led by Mindy. Later that day, we visited the
French Quarter and saw the city. We had some delicious food, including a
heaping portion of beignets. That night we went to the Holocaust memorial by
the water and conducted our own Havdalah service.
Overall, the trip was an absolutely
amazing experience. I strongly encourage anybody who has the
chance to do anything like this to do it. We actually made a difference and
helped people, and we learned even more about what it means to be a charitable
and thoughtful Jew. We also got to see a
new city, we
made new friends, we had lots of fun, and of course, we ate some great food.
Now I feel much more connected to my Shaaray Tefila community as well as to what
is happening in the New Orleans
area. Most importantly, this service
learning experience makes me want to do more to help.
# # #
[Editor’s Note: Charlie Saperstein and mom, Melissa,
joined other Religious School students,
parents, and Mindy Davids,
Shaaray Tefila’s Director of Religious School and Educational Innovation, on
this service learning trip to New Orleans.]