Celebrating Chanukah in a day school setting is indeed a gift. Everyday brings something special — yesterday our Elementary School students enjoyed a mesibah with an abundance of singing and dancing. Today, a student playing the accordian meanders down the hallways of our Upper School, spreading smiles in his wake.
Recently, our students had the opportunity to provide a gift beyond our own community — a busload of high schoolers traveled to Queens to help out residents whose lives and homes were severely damaged in the recent Hurricane. In the words of Rabbi Mordechai Soskil, our Limudei Kodesh principal for our middle and upper schools, “In school we learn about chesed and tzedaka, some of our most important values. But this gave us an opportunity to DO chesed, which really is a more important lesson.”
Please read below for two students account of their experiences.
STUDENT CHESED BATTALION AIDS STORM-BATTERED NEW YORKERS
By Jason Avigan ‘13
On Sunday, Nov. 11, fifty-one Maimonides students in Grades 8-12 arrived in Long Beach, NY.
Headed by Rabbi Mordechai Soskil, Upper and Middle School Judaic studies principal, and Mrs. Judy Boroschek, general studies principal, the volunteers had stepped up for a day of manual labor to help some of those worst hit by Hurricane Sandy.
What we saw was shocking and painful to many.
The first glimpse into the uprooted lifestyle was a sign instructing residents, “Do not flush toilets.” This was the least of their problems.
Driving along the beach we saw mountains of sand collected from the neighborhood. Carried in by waves of water, the sand itself had been a huge factor in the destruction of many homes.
Venturing further into the wasteland, we began to look down residential streets, where the destruction wrought by the storm manifested itself on front lawns. In front of every house lay immense piles of garbage — garbage that until the storm on Oct. 29 and 30 was these people’s furnishings and other possessions.
The bus dropped us off in one of the most devastated areas, where we split into groups of five and six. Groups walked from door to door asking people what they could do.
“I was skeptical at first, doubting we could get anything done in such a short period of time,” said Shoshana Stitcher ’13. “When we got there, though, we got right to work and were able to help a lot of people who needed us.”
Adam Kramer ’13 asked several people before finding somewhere for his group to work. He remarked, “Countless people turned us away, telling us about others who needed our help even more. Despite everything they had lost, they seemed so selfless.”
Each group, however, quickly found a way to make itself useful. Elisha Jacobs ’13 and his group got to work on a pile of debris left on the sidewalk outside a man’s house.
“If you could get this cleared up before my kid gets home,” the man told Elisha with a grateful smile, “it would mean so much to him.” The group shoveled through the wreckage, much of which was evidently sewage, bagged it and set it out to be taken away.
Daniel Ofman ’13 and his group used saws to cut up tree branches to be hauled away. Jacob Bergel ’13 led his group in the demolition of a family’s garage, breaking up walls and carrying away the remains.
Most groups, though, focused on helping families dispose of their belongings. “It was like spring-cleaning except no one chose what to throw out — they had to get rid of everything,” commented Elisha Galler ’13. He added, “We almost felt like a moving service, except instead of loading people’s lives onto a truck, we dumped them on the curb.”
My group spent a majority of the time helping one family move the wreckage piled in the backyard onto the front lawn. Every time we picked something up, we had to walk back through the house. The house was completely empty. Every piece of furniture had been removed, and most of the rotting walls had been broken up and discarded.
When I found a family portrait within the wreck, I carried it through what was left of the house, understanding what had been lost. The mother saw me and asked me to put the photograph aside to be saved, but I knew that the picture was ruined.
After several hours of work, the groups reassembled and returned to the bus. We shared our experiences and Yoni Schoenberg ’13 commented, “I know we could only make the tiniest dent in the catastrophe, but it was still nice to do what we could.”
The others agreed, many admitting that they felt proud to tell people they had made the trip from Boston to help. “In school we learn about chesed and tzedaka, some of our most important values. But this gave us an opportunity to DO chesed, which really is a more important lesson,” Rabbi Soskil declared.
Soon we arrived at the house in nearby Lawrence of Maimo alumna Leah (Rosenfield) Lightman ’78, who served us dinner and expressed her deep gratitude for our help. Many heads nodded in agreement when she told us, “Nobody can understand the devastation unless they come and see it.”
Sandy Strikes: Maimo Helps
by Shoshanna Stitcher ’13
On Sunday, November 11, more than fifty students from eighth through twelfth grade arrived at school at 6:30am for an early davening. Outside, a coach bus was waiting to take them to Far Rockaway, New York, where they were to help clean up in the wake Hurricane Sandy. The bus was loaded with supplies to take to people who had lost everything in the storm. After a four hour journey, the bus arrived in New York and was sent to Long Beach to help hurricane victims.
In Long Beach, mountains of sand lined the beaches, ruined belongings were piled up on the sidewalks in front of houses, and demolished interior walls were strewn across front yards. Signs warned people not to flush toilets because of a shortage of water. It seemed almost impossible to help.
The students split into groups and dispersed throughout the neighborhood. Each group went door to door asking the residents if they needed help with anything. Adam Kramer ’13 offered many people help and was astounded at how compassionate they were, even in the face of tremendous suffering. “We’d go from house to house and countless people rejected our help but told us where we could find people who needed it more. They were so selfless.”
One group was asked to help clear a sidewalk and to shovel the muck that remained from the sewage water that had flooded the street. They filled garbage bags with destroyed belongings that had been thrown onto the street. Outside one house, Jason Avigan ’13 and his group threw out a family’s entire music collection, their shoes and all the contents of their kitchen, “It was almost like spring cleaning” he said, “except families didn’t choose what to throw out, they had to get rid of everything.” Another group helped to demolish someone’s garage with sledgehammers. The garage had been completely ruined by water damage from the rising tide.
One family had just regained power in its house that morning. The family members were moving back home to start repairing the damage themselves. Their friend from Queens, New York, had rescued them after they spent the whole night of the storm upstairs in their house. The water level had reached four feet in places. They had emptied the inside of the house and all their belongings lay around their house in huge mounds. The family was forced to pull out all of the house’s interior walls and remove all of the flooring. As the student volunteers carried the belongings from the backyard to the front yard, they found family photos and old albums which were wet and damaged. A few streets down from this house, six other houses had burned down during the storm. One had exploded and high winds had spread the fire to additional houses. Chimneys were the only thing that remained.
After only three hours, the students had to return to the bus. Many were surprised at what they had been able to do in such a short time period. Elisha Jacobs ’13, explained that “Every homeowner was so grateful for our being there. I expected an unproductive, meaningless trip, and was taken aback by the amount of work we were able to complete and the impact we were able to make on people.” Yoni Schoenberg ’13 wishes they could have stayed to help for longer. “I knew we could only make the tiniest dent in this relief effort but it was still nice to do what little help we could.”
Before the bus started the long journey back to Boston, the students made one last stop in Lawrence, where they had been invited to the house of a Maimonides alumna for dinner. Yosef Rumshiskiy ’13 thought the dinner was the perfect end to the day, “After a day spent fixing up a desolated region of New York it was very nice to have a great dinner at a Maimo alum’s house.” The hosts had not regained electricity until Friday afternoon and had been worried that the dinner would be by candlelight. After dinner, Maimonides students lumbered back onto the bus both saddened and profoundly satisfied.
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