Tuesday, the third day of the Puerto Rico trip, students arose eager to continue their help in repairing the island. The work done this day left the students feeling that their presence in puerto rico has been both impactful and purposeful. As usual the morning began with a Mincha service, led by the lovely students who volunteered.
We then embarked on a lengthy bus ride to the volunteer sight where students were able to observe areas more damaged by the storm. Upon arrival, the students where immediately greeted with warmth by the Nechama service group. The house before us appeared an impossible task for it was completely decimated and seemingly unsalvageable. The roofless house contained floors covered in muck and the furniture and supplies that once decorated the home where now buried within piles of tin, wood, and filth. Nonetheless, the students attended to the task at hand and divided into groups responsible for heavy lifting, cleaning, and demolition.
Students divided and conquered amongst the regions of the home where their help was needed and worked together as a team. Moldy, insect infested Sofas and mattresses where being chucked from the balcony of the home as students from each corner where running up and down the stars to retrieve more planks of wood and tin from the home. After three hours the students where amazed to see their hard work pay off for the entire top floor was clear of debris. The next task students conquered was in helping nock down the ceiling and damaged tiles on the floor. Students broke their backs to tear out tiles and lift large planks of wood. The unity of the group was revealed through the teamwork required to overcome harder tasks. Wherever help was needed students would divide and work as efficiently as possible.
After only five hours, the students where able to complete work that would have taken nechama weeks to finish. The house owners where so grateful and in awe of the huge pile of accumulated junk that all of the students removed. After this the chaperones decided to abandon the plans of meeting the mayor and allow for the students to enjoy a relaxing afternoon by the beach. All the students where so pleased to be able to jump in the refreshing ocean, clean off, and relax after a rather un glamorous cleaning experience.
The evening was concluded with a pleasant dinner at the JCC in san Juan where the students were treated to a presentation by ISRAaid teaching the value in community service. Everyone felt so proud of the hard work they had done and could confidently say this trip has beeb meaningful and containing immense value.
Almost a year and a half ago, my friend from Puerto Rico asked me to donate money to help rebuild her JCC because the roof had been blown off by Hurricane Maria. I never thought that I would be sitting outside of that same JCC with her all these months later. This trip has been incredibly fun yet simultaneously eye-opening. We started today with breakfast at the hotel then made our way to the JCC for tfillot. Afterwards, we took an hour bus ride to Morovis (a Puerto Rican municipality) to begin our community service. There, we were split into three groups and taken to three different houses. Each group completed various tasks. Personally, my group cleaned and painted a room in an elderly woman's home. When we moved a bed from a wall, lizards and spiders ran out, forcing us to see how much this woman would benefit from our help. Another group scraped paint from the ceiling of a house, which contributed to the advancement of rebuilding the home. I think every group agreed that the labor was difficult and strenuous, but we could see how much we were helping.
Sweaty and tired, we boarded the bus for our next adventure. A few minutes later, we arrived at a small Holocaust museum created by members of a church seeking to educate the people of Puerto Rico about the tragedy. We were greeted by smiling faces and a table of snacks. As we noshed on the snacks, we looked outside to see a beautiful double rainbow. Everyone immediately got out their phones and snapped pictures of the extraordinary sight. We sang Oseh Shalom and had a quick tour of the museum. The group left our mark on the museum by using paint to make handprints on a back wall.
About an hour and a half later, we found ourselves back at the JCC sitting in a circle eagerly holding gifts, ready for the gift exchange. It was so funny seeing what everyone got for their friends and trying to guess who had who. After dinner and the gift exchange, we returned to the hotel for free time. We headed across the street to the beach. We climbed on the rocks and went for a stroll, and we even convinced Mr. Herskowitz to let us get Ben & Jerry's! It was the perfect end to the perfect day :)
David said this: Group number one was David, Ayala, Emily, Assaf, Nadav and Mrs. Watson. Our task was to repaint a room. We were in the house of an elderly woman whose caretaker was a nun named Maria. Maria was super nice to us and even sang and played guitar while we painted. Before painting we had to scrape the old paint off because of how badly the room had been damaged after Maria. We almost didn’t get it all done, but Mrs. Watson showed us how to do everything efficiently and kept us on task. It was amazing to see how much of a difference we made in making their house more livable.
Our exciting journey began at approximately 5am. After a safe flight, the adventure began. Awaiting us at the airport was the director of the Jewish Community Center, Diego. We then hopped on the bus and drove to eat a delicious lunch in the fresh air at Kabanas. After going back to the hotel to change, we went to the beautiful old city of San Juan. The architecture of the buildings and the cobble stone streets add to the rich character and history of the old city. As we were walking around, the sun was setting over the water and it was magical. In the old city, we went to the holocaust memorial and we were all moved. We then proceeded to go to the JCC to have dinner with some students our age who are a part of the Conservative Jewish community here. After a dinner filled with laughs, table games and delicious food we were all ready to go back to the hotel and rest up for our day of service.
Twenty of our 11th and 12 graders will embark on Mission: Puerto Rico. The delegation has been collecting items of need to donate upon arrival to the San Juan Mayor's office next week, where they will be distributed throughout the community in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
High School Students Embark on Puerto Rico Service Mission
By David Wingens '19
As Hanukkah approaches, select 11th and 12th grade students are preparing to spend their first few days of the holiday on GOA’s annual service mission trip. For the first time, the delegation will be traveling to Puerto Rico to help rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which struck September 2017. The group will be working hands-on with Nechama, a Jewish agency that focuses on disaster response, as well as IsraAID, an Israeli-based humanitarian aid agency that responds to emergency crises.
Aside from their work with these organizations, the group will, among other activities, meet with Puerto Rican teens, visit Puerto Rico’s Holocaust museum and San Juan’s Mayor’s office, and tour Old San Juan as well as the San Juan Bay National Estuary. These experiences will bolster the service opportunity by giving students a connection to the land, its people, and the Puerto Rican Jewish community. The trip is aligned with GOA’s mission-based values of repair of the world (tikkun olam), community (kehillah), and Jewish life and learning (mitzvot and halacha). There is a lot of excitement among those going. Senior Ayala Jones says, “I look forward to a great trip helping others and learning about another culture.”
Junior Nadav Soudry agrees, saying, “This will surely be an invaluable experience.”
Tuesday, December 4
Monday, December 3
Sunday, December 2
LOWER SCHOOL (PreK - 5)
Wilf Lower School Campus 122 Gregory Ave. | West Orange, NJ 07052 | (973) 602-3700
UPPER SCHOOL (6 - 12)
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