After prolonged rainfall in mid-August of this year, flooding in Louisiana began. It wreaked havoc, leaving thirteen dead, houses destroyed, pets abandoned, and thousands in shelters. Yeshiva University promptly organized a volunteer mission for students to help with relief and rebuilding efforts.
Twelve YU students traveled to Baton Rouge and spent the entire Labor Day weekend together.
Yoni Mintz, YC ‘17, one of the students on the mission, was struck by the scene he arrived at. “Outside of nearly every house we passed, we saw a huge pile of what had suddenly become trash. Much of this trash consisted of items that had just a few weeks earlier sat serenely in the homes. Places where kids would normally enjoy their front lawns, neighbors would wave hello to each other as they passed and lives were happily lived, now became locations strewn with remnants of what used to be. Fridges, ovens, clothing, dolls, toys, food, computers and beds were just a few of the pieces of rubble that we saw. The things that once made these houses into homes were now lying in disarray, abandoned by the curb,” he said.
Over the next few days, the students ripped up floorboards, carried out rotting food, disposed of moldy furniture, and emptied out houses of all their waterlogged contents. In all, they worked on four houses devastated by the flood, wearing masks because of the intense stench of the mold and decomposition. The owners of the homes expressed tremendous gratitude for YU students’ assistance after the trauma of losing their belongings.
One aspect that Tzivya Beck, SCW ‘17, enjoyed was that the Yeshiva College men and the Stern College women were given equally taxing work on the Louisiana Mission. “The entire trip was inspiring. There was no difference between the guys and the girls. Girls were lifting beds and mattresses. It was a great environment to be in.”
The students spent Shabbat in New Orleans with Chabad, and enjoyed a tour the French Quarter. They also had the opportunity to eat meals at a local Modern Orthodox synagogue. Students spoke enthusiastically of this unexpected addition to a trip that was supposed to be “all work” and enthused over the community there.
Sarah Sheps, the Stanton Fellow at the Office of Student Life, accompanied the students on the mission. “We are often told practice what you preach,” she said while reflecting on her time there, “but most of the time in life, that is understandably difficult to do. I work nine to five, I sit at a desk all day, I type emails and answer phones. I give tzedeka — that is my helping while still doing it from the comfort of my home. But there are times in life when disaster strikes and you are left with no option. You must step out of your comfort zone, and practice what you preach. I have never seen students so devoted and tirelessly working. They did not shy away from the mold, the spoiled food, the water, they toughed it all out because they knew they were helping and making a difference.
Heavy rainfall and catastrophic flooding served as an impetus for Yeshiva University students to perform truly powerful acts of kindness over their Labor Day vacation. As Beck put it, “This mission…definitely align[ed] with Rav Soloveitchik’s ideal [of] mipnei darchei shalom, the ways of peace are to help others, even if they’re not part of your specific community, and we were able to make a kiddush HaShem while really helping these families.”
Although the mission was hard work, Mintz expressed his gratitude for the time he spent in Louisiana. “I am thankful that Yeshiva University has given me and others the opportunity to help others, one at a time,” he said.