By Deb Silverthorn
A three-day holiday weekend means sleeping in and hanging out — but not for the three dozen students and faculty of Yavneh Academy and the Dallas Chapter of the National Council of Synagogue Youth. These individuals made their way to Moore, Okla., in the early morning hours on Sunday, May 26.
The Dallas-area volunteers spent the day cleaning, delivering food and drinks to residents and searching for lost treasures amidst the rubble. Their presence was not understated.
“The way these kids and their advisers came into town and rolled up their sleeves and got right to work — it was a true Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of the Name),” said Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, director of the Chabad Community Center For Jewish Life and Learning in Oklahoma City. “They were one of the first youth groups to come out and help, even before those who live much closer to us, and our community has truly been touched.”
Yavneh representatives included Niv Avneri, Sarah Barnett, Haley Chestler, Hadas Cohen, Jordan Cope, Hannah Delagi, Meir Epstein, Michelle Friedstadt, Ari Geller, Ori Guttman, Austin Jacoby, Elvira Levi, Rabbi Michel Lomner, Logan Luskey, Risa Mond, Ethan Pearson, Yosef Presburger, Naomi Schrager, Noah Shore, Rabbi Meir Tannenbaum, Dania Tanur, Noah Weiss, Erin Wernick and Sammy Weyser.
Yavneh students, Valerie Lopez, Stephanie Medina and Clara Wohlstadter, also members of NCSY, were excited to bridge their Jewish school and social friends to share in the day’s deeds. Yavneh family members and friends, included Dr. Eric Jacoby, Sofia Joison, Jocelyn Lopez, Leslie Lopez, Carolyn San Soucie, Tamar Schrager, Tsipporah Schrager, Liat Sterenfeld and Dr. Eduardo Tanur, who shared in the day’s mitzvah making. The Yavneh students joined NCSYers Sarah Ehrenpreis, Andrew Fowler, Cayli Fowler, Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt, Ariel Refua, Erin Van Creveld. and Lexi Van Creveld.
“Imo anochie batzara — we’re with you in your pain, and we share in your grief. There is massive need and a massive opportunity for us to be a part of,” said Rabbi Michel Lomner, who is part of the faculty at Yavneh, and director of programming for NCSY Dallas. Rabbi Israel Lashak, Dallas’ NCSY regional director coordinated the project with Rabbi Goldman. “It was so powerful and inspiring to all of us who participated, and helping in this kind of crisis is what we stand for as Jews,” added Rabbi Lomner.
“This was a very meaningful trip,” said Rabbi Meir Tannenbaum, Yavneh associate principal/Judaic curriculum, while noting the possibility of continuing the relationship with those in Oklahoma through a possible 2013/14 Shabbaton. “This was a great opportunity for our kids who are hands-on, and a wonderful first-hand experience. Sometimes we don’t get to see the tangible results of our efforts. Here we physically placed food into their hands, we interacted with those that lost so much, and we sifted through the rubble, grateful to return any salvageable items.”
The group found homes that had sustained little damage, those with quite a bit, and others — with vehicles wrapped around what might have been a kitchen, and love letters found amidst the brush. From early morning until mid-afternoon, they separated trash from wood, bricks and personal items.
“This area, with not a large Jewish population, is incredibly supporting of Eretz Yisroel; financially, emotionally and many from here travel there often,” said Rabbi Goldman, who with his wife Nechama and their five children, have been based in Oklahoma City since 1998. The couple hosted the volunteers for a barbecue dinner before the group returned to Dallas. “For our residents to see that immediate response came from Jewish students, in their dire time of need, made a great impact, and we welcome anyone who wants to continue to help.”
“The reality of what we saw, compared to what appears on television, is incredible. You can’t even imagine what it is for these people to have lost everything,” said Yavneh senior, Yosef Presburger, who first heard of the volunteering opportunity late Saturday night, but was at morning prayers at Yavneh with his friends by 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, and on the road an hour later. “We found ‘little’ things like a toothbrush but it was someone’s toothbrush, from their home that likely doesn’t exist. I didn’t even have to think about going — if I didn’t go, it would be like I never learned anything at Yavneh or in my life.”
To make a donation for those affected by the recent tornadoes, through the Chabad Community Center For Jewish Life and Learning in Oklahoma City, visit www.jewishokc.com