Teens Find Community and New Meaning During Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend Service Trip

By Jenna Ferraro, 9th Grade

This Martin Luther King weekend I went on WJC Teens’ yearly service learning trip to Houston, Texas, which is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. It was an amazing experience. We helped at the Houston Food Bank, a local Conservative synagogue, and an organization called “Undies for Everyone” where we packed over 2,500 pairs of new underwear for kids in need.

From Sheryl Eskowitz at Congregation Beth Yeshurun, we heard how their entire synagogue, including the main sanctuary, had been damaged.The extensive loss from the flood was unbelievably upsetting and an eye-opening experience. We helped unpack books in their library that had been emptied and taken apart after the flood. Although it was very hard work, it was worth it because we were helping bring the synagogue one step closer to recovery after the storm.

At the Houston Food Bank, I was astonished to learn that children comprise a large number of the 800,000 people fed annually. This made me feel grateful for what I have. At the food bank, we packed boxes upon boxes of rice, which at the end of the day amounted to over 1,500 bags! I was so tired when our volunteering came to an end, but I couldn’t help but smile knowing that I helped all those people feel a little less hungry.

We also went to a Temple in a poorer neighborhood to make mezuzahs for people whose houses were damaged or destroyed in the flood. Destruction from the flood was immediately evident when we arrived at the Temple, including leaking bathroom pipes and drains gushing water. It was sad to see because I knew in other more affluent neighborhoods, this would have been an easy fix.

There we met with a nice woman, named Chava, who recently started a nonprofit where she makes and gathers donated mezuzahs and menorahs and Judaica items for people whose houses were destroyed. We made clay mezuzzahs for people to hang on their doors. It was rewarding to know that our handiwork was also restoring faith in people’s homes.

From a bus tour around the West Side of Houston, we could see and really understand how much damage was done. We saw a lot of for sale signs, houses being put on stilts, and even houses being completely abandoned and ripped away from the original property. While these sights were disturbing, we were glad to be there to help these families in need and give them food and clean underwear.

The group we traveled with is what also helped to make this such a meaningful experience. There were only 14 of us, but we had the chance to get to know each other and bond in a way we usually do not get to on your average Tuesday night. I can speak for everyone in saying we feel much closer as a community after spending time together in Houston. The experience was unforgettable and I can’t wait to help another community in need next year.

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