January 5th

Ben Levy, SUNY New Paltz

Eugene told us to salvage one thing from his otherwise devastated home in St. Bernard’s Parish:  the ashes of his son.  Nothing else was as valuable.  So we commenced to remove, item by reeking item, every bit of water-logged furniture, molded picture frame, and broken knickknack in the cluttered, muddy, reeking home.  The fridge tipped and with it gallons of maggot, mold, mess water.  We all gagged and ran leaving one of us wailing and wading in the stinking muck.  Little by little the house was cleaned and gutted and we nearly forgot all about the snow-globe that contained the picture and ashes of the deceased child.  The thought of finding it seemed impossible until a shriek came from the back room as the ashes were found under a mountain of trash.  That was the most memorable and important thing that we literally plucked from the rubble and finding it made the fridge muck, mold, mud, and vile mess all worth while.  

January 4th

Sara Parsowith, Vermont Law School

Today I was fortunate enough to work at three different sites, which highlighted both how every person in New Orleans has been affected by the hurricane and also, how every bit of help we give, whether great or small, contributes to their lives in some small way. While helping a couple clean a house we witnessed how heartbreaking it was for someone to see their possessions thrown away. This highlighted how although we are here to rebuild New Orleans, we achieve this primarily by the destruction of property, a difficult concept to come to grips with. We also helped the Chabad Rabbi’s son move a couple of items of furniture from his old house to his new house, a seemingly simple task that had been daunting and time consuming in the aftermath of the hurricane. We also returned some furniture that had been in storage at the Rabbi’s house to a local school which will be reopening tomorrow for the first time. All three tasks were exhausting yet highly moving. On the way to and from the school we noticed that new traffic lights had been put in after they had been destroyed, replacing the makeshift stop signs. The lights were brand new and very bright although it was a bit worrying that all three colors were lit at the same time! At the end of a hard day, we were treated to a wonderful dinner and copious L’Chaims. 

Michelle Taitz, NYU

Today we worked in a house close to the 9th Ward, I think the neighborhood was called Gintilly. My group consisted of myself, 6 other girls, as well as two boys. Initially the man whose house we came to clean was quite skeptical of what we could accomplish but he was pleasantly surprised at the end of the day. He was extremely impressed that we were willing to come to New Orleans for our vacation and help out complete strangers – it was a true Kiddush Hashem. Before we left he told us that we are changing the world one person at a time; he said that we changed his life and inspired him to try and change someone else’s life, thus passing on the kindness. Last night my friends and I went to dinner at the Creole Kosher Kitchen where the owner of the restaurant, as well as the families eating there, expressed their appreciation for our visit. Although there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done here, we will nonetheless leave with a feeling of accomplishment. We were able to touch and inspire many people and help them get through this difficult time.

Yoni, NJ IT

The best part about New Orleans is that there are no garbage cans.  If you want to throw something out then you can just toss it in the street.

I have to control myself these days from tearing down random walls in the buildings I go to.

This guy whose house we were gutting- he plans to rebuild.  We took care of the molding and he marked where all the pieces went so that he could put them back together again.  If this happened to me I’d be like “ahhh just throw it out, I can’t deal with it” and he was like “west end 3rd doorway kitchen 3.5 ex.”

January 3rd

EmilyRose Johns/University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Today we returned to a house that we began gutting on the 1st. It was incredibly emotional to see the pile that had already accumulated even on the first day, but to rebuild the pile on the third day, for much of our work from the first day was removed, was very painful. On CNN during the initial damage, we were all seeing images of the piles that I speak of now. I thought that that must be the most substantially emotion-provoking image, to warrant that much media “sound-bite” coverage. It was not. Yesterday’s Synagogue project was like wading through a swamp. Seeing all of the beauty corrupted with mold – yellow, green, black – made it almost imposable to keep our composure. Tomorrow we begin to rebuild, not just destruct and rip apart people’s lives. It is the little ray of hope that we need to keep us going; to keep us being the ray of hope for the people whose houses we have worked on.

Amber Lupin/Tulane University

I live here, so this trip originated from my desire both to get back to my city before everyone else (bragging rights) and, to be perfectly honest, so that I didn’t have to spend my entire break with my parents.  But really, I’m quite satisfied with my decision to come here.  Even though my school is going to do a lot of community building and I’m sure I have not gutted my last house for the year.  It’s interesting, though, to come with a religious group, because it’s a point of view I’m sure will be missing with a university excursion.  It’s really cool to come back and reflect on our day over our super-tasty dinner (I’m really not being sarcastic) and there’s a whole lot of unity already.  Plus, we’re cleaning up synagogues and religious schools which is something I suspect Tulane won’t touch (maybe because it’s already covered…)  In any case, it’s awesome to be working hard for the people of New Orleans because this city means a lot to me.  And to the crazy lady in Charleston who told me everyone in New Orleans “had too much help already,” here’s another bam-bam-bam of my hammer into some sheetrock.

 January 2nd

Ben Levy, New Paltz

There are two eyes I use to see all this.  One sees my tiny hammer as completely impotent, worthlessly ticking away at the mountain of mold, garbage, and debris that the entire city has become during the past months.  The other sees each tick as a tick among thousands who all together will slowly move this mountain from the homes in which it invaded.  One gets angry at each photo taken in place of a handful of trash.  The other looks at these photos afterward happily because they document the kindness and selflessness of these volunteers.  One sees every smile or laugh on every volunteer or resident as blatant ignorance in the face of the gravity that each empty, glass-shattered home, each stroller strewn to the curb, and each death count number spray-painted on a doorframe drives into the heart of one who pays any attention.  The other sees these smiles and laughs as the only thing real enough to get any of them, us, all of us through all this.  In the end I choose to look through the latter eye.  Otherwise what’s the point?


 January 1st 2006

Erik Steel

Flying to New Orleans today was my first time on an airplane. I am happy to report that it turns out I am not afraid of flying.

Landed in NO half hour late to due to thick fog. Flying over the clouds in NO reminded me of how good life can feel.

It is strange to come to NO for the first time in this set of circumstances. People normally come here for the sole purpose of having fun: we are here to help people whose lives have been torn apart by Hurricane Katrina. The stark, somber ghost town that greeted me was definitely counter to my former impressions of NO.

I am glad to have been able to help the Felmans. And, wrong as it may be to say, there was something strangely fun about volunteering today.

Tzina Klein, Rockland Community Collage from Wesley Hills, NY

I landed in the MSY airport on 12/29/’05. It was a very interesting to meet many people and speak to them between switching flights. I am very happy that I made the decision to make this optional trip.

I also had the opportunity to volunteer in the Ninth Ward Clinic and  get a more of a realistic outlook on everything in real life first hand.