It was still dark at 5 am, but eleven students from Touro’s Lander College for Women (LCW)—the Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School—were bright-eyed as they boarded a plane for Houston days before Sukkos. The students, along with three staff members, travelled to Houston as part of a Touro-sponsored mission to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
“The trip reflects our values,” stated LCW Dean Marian Stoltz-Loike. “Our students spent two of their vacation days in Houston engaged in chessed, true generosity and kindness, assisting the Jewish community to rebuild after the devastation from Hurricane Harvey. They felt that providing assistance was a privilege and most of the group thanked me for enabling them to help.”
Harry Ballan, Dean of Touro Law Center, secured funding for this project, because “I didn’t see any option for us not to help when others are in such need. Touro’s mission is not only the transmission of knowledge, but also, and at least as important, the promotion of justice and service to others, especially those in need. This defines our culture. It’s who we are.”
After landing in Texas, the volunteers met with local activist Holly David, the founder of Willow Meadows Community Response Team, to get their assignments.
Rebbetzin Rachel Yaghobian, of Congregation Torah Vachesed, introduced them to the Houston Jewish community. “Her message was that at the end of the day, while the damage was extensive, what really mattered the most was that they survived,” recalled LCW student Elisheva Hay.
David divided the volunteers into two groups and sent them to Jewish families whose homes suffered damage during the hurricane. One group helped a family gut a house that was too water-damaged to be salvaged. The other group helped a family transport furniture to their new apartment. In the afternoon, the second group cleaned a house from debris and bleached the floors to prevent mold.
“It was heartbreaking,” said LCW student Zehava Kramer of Cleveland, Ohio. “We spent hours cleaning and bleaching and putting things aside for the insurance company. The homeowner said he’d probably be able to move back in a year-and-a-half and he was one of the lucky ones.”
LCW student Sarah Lacks, who grew up in Miami and saw her share of hurricanes, was surprised by the extent of the damage. “I didn’t realize how disastrous it was until we got there,” said Lacks. “You don’t think about how much water can damage something. Some homes had a foot of water and the houses had to be gutted.”
On the second day of the trip, students organized and packed donated supplies and then distributed them from a warehouse in northeast Houston. “People didn’t have a chance to pack anything before they had to leave,” explained Lacks.
“The warehouses provided everything from socks to canned goods to toiletries and shirts.”
After two exhausting days, the students returned to New York. Lacks felt the mission was a Kiddush Hashem. “People saw us in our LCW shirts and they saw us dressed modestly,” Lacks said. “We were proud to show them that we were part of a Jewish institution. It was a great experience.”
For Hays, the reason was simple, “We came because we heard they could use extra hands.”
Source: Touro College