Today was a very eventful day!!! Our day started bright and early at 7 AM and was filled with so much excitement! After a three-hour, non-eventful flight, we finally landed in New Orleans. Our trip started with a visit to a plantation museum which allowed us to gain a new perspective on a topic that many of us are currently studying in history class: slavery. Following the plantation, we took a bus tour of the Lower Ninth Ward lead by a man named Robert. Robert has been leading GOA groups on tours of the Lower Ninth Ward for many years. In fact, he greeted us wearing his GOA hat! He also informed us that he hung a mezuzah given to him by our school on his door post. The tour of the Lower Ninth Ward was extremely emotional for many of us. It was shocking and humbling to see how the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the areas most effected by Hurricane Katrina, is still repairing to this day. However, it is important to note that the hurricane is not what embodies the people of New Orleans. After a short amount of time, it was clear to see that hope, positivity and community can easily be found throughout the city. We went to the Lower Ninth Ward Museum and met a young boy named Jeffrey who embodied these values. When I came across Jeffrey within the museum, he greeted me with a huge hug and began to ask me all about my life as he proceeded to braid my hair. I learned more about him and his family and was truly humbled by his positivity, kindness and strength. By the end of our time at the museum, most of the group was found singing songs with Jeffrey with their hair either braided or put in a bun by him. Jeffrey's genuine happiness to be alive is the exact spirit that the city of New Orleans carries. Following the museum, we went to a local conservative synagogue, ate dinner, and participated in an engaging text study with others teens from the area. We then went out for beignets-- wow so tasty!!! The day was completed with a fun bowling activity. Even after a short amount of time, New Orleans has made a lasting impact on us all. We are anxiously awaiting wake up tomorrow morning to start our volunteer work in this beautiful city.
Last year, a man named Robert Green spoke to the high school about his experience in Hurricane Katrina. He watched helplessly as his granddaughter and mother were swept up by the waves, never to be seen again. As Sarah discussed Jeffrey as a symbol for the New Orleans optimism, Robert embodies the continued strength and bravery in the face of pain and devastation. A poignant moment was when we passed the street corner where his mother and daughter died. Robert said "I pass by this streetcorner everyday and I never cried once. Because this is my home." Robert's hometown in the Lower 9th Ward is still destroyed; there are empty, overgrown plots of land in lieu of homes. Katrina's looming precense is still felt in his neighborhood, in the local high school and the entire city. Robert is another face of optimism and faith for New Orleans. I hope that Robert continues to inspire us as our trip continues.