D’var Torah of Awesome: MC New Orleans Engages With Congregation Gates of Prayer

by Jeremy Bordelon, Dani Schear, Hannah Hochberg-Miller, Sydney Block, & Isaac Levine
Participants, Mitzvah Corps New Orleans 2013

On Friday, July 5th, 2013, five of our Mitzvah Corps New Orleans teens were honored to give the d’var torah at Congregation Gates of Prayer in Metairie, Louisiana. The congregation recorded the service, and will post the video in their live streaming archives here in the coming weeks, so please check back to watch them in action! In the mean time, the text of their d’var is below. Shavua Tov!

D’var Torah of Awesome

Isaac Levine, Hannah Hochberg-Miller, Sydney Block, Dani Schear, & Jeremy Bordelon Mitzvah Corps New Orleans 2013

Isaac Levine, Hannah Hochberg-Miller, Sydney Block, Dani Schear, & Jeremy Bordelon
Mitzvah Corps New Orleans 2013

Jeremy: Shabbat Shalom and thank you for having us this evening. I know I speak on behalf of the entire Mitzvah Corps of the South group when I say it is a huge honor to be sharing Shabbat with you tonight.

This week’s Torah portion comes from the Book of Numbers. It is called Masei (Mah-say) and it focuses on the theme of journeys. Like our ancestors thousands of years ago, this amazing collection of Jewish teens and I are also on a journey.

 

Dani: Hello, I’m Danielle Schear and I’m from New York. Tonight, sharing Shabbat with your community are Jeremy, Hannah, Sydney, Isaac, and 19 other Jewish teenagers from all over the country. We are here with the URJ’s Mitzvah Corps program in New Orleans, which has three other locations this summer, in New Jersey, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.

In Mitzvah Corps our job is to give back to communities in need. For us, the past two weeks have been spent doing hands-on work, including gardening and clean up with The Lower Ninth Ward Village, assembling disaster relief packages with Second Harvest Food Bank, harvesting and planting food with Grow Dat and NOLA Green Roots and helping repair houses destroyed in Hurricane Katrina with St. Bernard Project. We also spent four days in Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery learning about the civil rights movement.

All this work is directly affecting people in the most positive way possible, including us. Through the ups and downs we’ve had, we have created bonds that will last a lifetime.

 

Hannah: Judaism and community service define my life. At home, all of my spare time is spent either at my synagogue or the local hospital where I volunteer.  With school out of session, and my calendar significantly less full, I was intent on finding a summer program to fill that scheduling void. It seemed a completely natural choice to go on Mitzvah Corps of the South, a program devoted to tikkun olam.

Having previously participated in this program two years ago, I knew that it would satisfy and even exceed all my expectations for a summer service trip. I knew it would help me grow as a Jewish teen through thought-provoking programs and insight into Jewish life in the South. And I knew its emphasis on social action would reinforce my passion for Reform Judaism and volunteer work, those core elements of who I am.

Mitzvah Corps of the South has definitely given me an opportunity to dig deeper and develop both these important aspects of my life.

 

Sydney: Civil Rights is a topic that everyone learns about, but only some fully understand. On our journey last weekend to Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, I learned to better understand civil rights. In school we learn through movies and textbooks, which is a lot different than going to the actual places. Walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge where Bloody Sunday occurred, standing where people were attacked by fire hoses as they stood up for their rights, has taught me more than any textbook could. Each of these destinations on our journey made me realize these things actually happened, and that it wasn’t that long ago.

Our four-day journey has not only taught me about civil rights, but it has made me a better person and inspired me to stand up for what I believe in. Hearing people say that they marched for Civil Rights at a young age has shown me that I can make a difference no matter my age.

Our journey to sweet home Alabama has taught me much more than any classroom in Maryland ever could.

 

Isaac: In the beginning of our journey on Mitzvah Corps, we were all brand new people who didn’t know each other. People were quiet. People were shy. But as soon as our first program started, everyone opened up and then we were all acquaintances.

Then we went to Second Harvest Food Bank where we packed disaster boxes in record time. Alpha Team and the rest of the crew grew closer. Then, we were all friends.

But the defining moment was our next volunteer location. It was terrible! But we all bonded over our continued complaining. And then, we were best friends.

It was as easy as that. In three days time we had all become great friends.  We all came into the trip expecting to learn new things, but we never expected to be on this journey with such amazing people.

 

Jeremy: Over the last two weeks our group has been on a journey. On this journey, we volunteered at five different organizations and visited many Civil Rights museums and sites, including the 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park, the site of the Children’s March for Civil Rights. We learned so much along the way.

To quote a piece of text from this week’s portion, “These were the marches of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.” Well, these past two weeks have been our march. Starting out from all over the country, step by step, taking part in tikkun olam.

 

Jeremy: My journey has made me more caring, compassionate and a better gardener.

Dani: My journey is helping others to help myself.

Sydney: My journey is making me a better person.

Hannah: My journey is going to one day repair the world.

Isaac: My journey is meeting others and working together for a better world, how ever much fun, or not fun, it may be.

Jeremy: These are our journeys, what are yours? Shabbat Shalom.

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