It’s about 7:00 AM as I start writing this. I’m sitting in a van with people I barely know; the two people that I do know currently sit in the other van. I am about to embark on a journey that is known as Habitat for Humanity (which includes a twelve hour drive to South Carolina) with Bnei Akiva and I’ve been nervous in the days leading up to the trip. What are we going to do once we get there? Am I going to like the people that I am expected to work with for the next week? There are a million questions running through my mind, but I choose to keep my mouth shut, sit back and enjoy the ride.
It’s now about 4PM and we’ve been on the road for the majority of the day. I’ve learned the names of everyone in my van and we’re playing road trip games to pass the time. I’ve learned what everyone’s favorite sound is. I’ve discovered that the pillow that is between me and the guy I’m sharing the row with is not his, but actually someone else’s from the other van (#phillowthepillow). I’m starting to think that this trip is not going to be as nerve-wracking as I originally made it out to be in my mind.
It’s been two days since we got to South Carolina. I’ve been sleeping on a couch that is smaller than my 5’1” frame and I injured my knee somewhere between travelling and getting to the worksite yesterday morning. We’ve had to shower at a local YMCA due to the lack of showers in the Reform temple we are staying at for the week. We’ve had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 6:15 AM each morning in order to leave the temple by 7:45 AM. I’ve dug a foundation for the beginnings of what will be a brand new house. I’ve gone bowling where I made a new friend while laughing from dancing badly to Harry Styles, Luke Bryan and Cardi B. I’ve gone to Walmart, where I wanted to buy out the entire store because the prices here are incredibly cheap compared to the New York prices I grew up with.
The craziest part of the last two days is the fact that I climbed onto a roof. I was beyond terrified, but I (somewhat) conquered my fear of heights and helped put shingles on a roof that was falling apart. That doesn’t mean that the rest of my group wasn’t laughing at me in the process, nor does it mean that I wasn’t afraid of falling or rolling off the roof the entire time. But I did the one thing that I told myself I wasn’t going to do on this trip, and I am doing a happy dance to celebrate my accomplishment.
I’m sitting in the van again, across the street from where we are supposed to be building a porch. This time, I’m with a few friends enjoying a game of Never Have I Ever, where I’m learning way too much information about certain people. I’m not feeling as alone as I did in the beginning. I’m slowly making friendships that I feel might have the potential to continue even after the trip ends. I’ve played more games of Heads Up and Psych! on this trip than I can probably count, but I laugh more and more as the games go on.
With each day that passes, I’m discovering just how much the community appreciates our presence. Everywhere I go, I hear from various people that we are doing a great thing for the community of Darlington, SC. As I throw bags of clothing into a truck, I learn that these bags could bring in up to $2500 per truck. We are becoming immersed within the community and I’m starting to not want to leave at the end of the week.
I’m sitting at a Shabbat community meal in the Chabad of Columbia, SC. It’s a small Orthodox community, but each person I’ve met is genuinely nice. I listen to life stories and see how this slowly thriving Jewish community appreciates us sitting with them at their meal. They applaud us for taking time from our winter breaks to drive to another state and build houses for people in need, without even a second thought.
It amazes me that I didn’t even think about what our presence would mean for the communities we have stayed in this week. I only thought I was going to be building houses. I didn’t realize that I was changing lives too. By being here, we are showing the locals that young Orthodox Jewish adults really do have the power to make all the difference in the world, if we put our minds to it.
It’s about 11:30 PM. I’m back in the van, this time starting our journey home. I’m sitting next to a now close friend of mine, discussing life stories and having deep meaningful conversations. I’ve let him stalk my high school crush on Facebook. He’s told me in detail about why he transferred colleges. He knows about my dad having cancer when I was nineteen. I know about his family dynamics. I’m learning more and more about the people I’ve been with for the week and I am slowly realizing that although our ages may be different, we’re more similar than we thought.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past week too. I’ve stopped being so reserved in my thoughts. I can now laugh at myself for saying things that sound completely ridiculous. I can conquer my fears if I put my mind to it. It’s amazing to see this transformation when I see myself in the eyes of the people around me. They accept my quirks, and I love them for it.
It will be weird to wake up at a reasonable hour in my dorm room bed. It will be weird to not be sitting in a van for long stretches of time. It will be weird to shower in the privacy of my own bathroom. Despite that, I wouldn’t change a thing. Habitat for Humanity was one of the most humbling experiences I ever had, and I have a good feeling that this trip (and the friends I made) will stick with me for a long time.