by Andrew Paull
Mitzvah Corps of the South, Student Life Coordinator
With the High Holy Days come and gone, and the New Year now fully underway, recalling your experiences of the past summer may be a challenge, unless your summer was an experience where you learned lifelong skills, made friends from all over the country and helped repair the world. For two weeks this summer, that was my experience on Mitzvah Corps of the South.
For two weeks in June and July, serving as the Student Life Coordinator, I had the privilege to work with 26 teens and two fellow staff from around the United States as we pursued hands on social action work. Most of our efforts were focused in greater New Orleans, helping repair damage from Hurricane Katrina. We cleared abandon lots in the Lower 9th Ward, rebuilt housing and installed dry wall in St. Bernard Parish, and planted community gardens for low-income families. Outside of New Orleans, we spent Shabbat at URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp, learned about Reform Jewish life in the south with the clergy of Temple Emanu-El, and traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity to help with tornado relief. Responses and reactions to working with Habitat for Humanity can be seen in this video .
Two months later, the experiences and lessons from those two weeks still stay with me. In my role as Youth Programs Coordinator at Larchmont Temple, I use the skills gained in volunteer coordination to expand our social action programs and events. I have worked with our Social Action Vice President and the Social Action Committee to brainstorm how we can serve different populations, both within and beyond our Westchester community.
Upon returning from New Orleans, I have spoken about my time with Mitzvah Corps of the South often, to my Religious School students, to youth group members and to Temple congregants. On more than one occasion, I received the response “I didn’t know they still needed help down there.” Six years after Hurricane Katrina, I too was surprised how much rebuilding and repairing the Gulf region still needs. But it does. There are blocks of houses in the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish that still lay in ruins. We met individuals and families that, six years later, still have not returned to their flooded homes. I am thankful that I, along with 28 others, participated in Mitzvah Corps of the South as a way to engage in tikkun olam last summer, to see firsthand the destruction that still remains in the Gulf, and to continue speaking about how we, as Reform Jews, can help repair that part of the world in future summers.