Seniors volunteered in New Orleans with community groups revitalizing the Lower 9th Ward, including Make It Right, Lower 9 Resilient, The Backyard Gardeners Network, and Our School at Blair Grocery.
Arriving in New Orleans in the evening, students made their way to the beautiful and historic Anshe Sfard synagogue in the picturesque Uptown area just off St. Charles Avenue with its lumbering streetcar. (Students who had read A Streetcar Named Desire and even those who had not remarked on the distinctive architecture and the obvious humidity that lends the setting an authentic southern feel.) Anshe Sfard was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and did not reopen until 2006. The synagogue's Torah scrolls were rescued during Hurricane Katrina.
Day 1: After a good night's sleep at the Crescent Palms Motel, we embarked on our day of service, beginning with a tour of the Lower Ninth Ward, the area of New Orleans that was hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. The host of our tour was Tanya Harris, Community Outreach Manager of the Make it RightFoundation, founded by Brad Pitt to help rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward. Ebullient, funny, and born and raised in the Lower 9th Ward, Ms. Harris has been a leader in the post-Katrina rebuilding efforts and a staunch advocate for the right of return for all residents of New Orleans.
She took us to the site where one of the levees gave way. Students found the geographically distinct area fascinating, exploring the meeting place of land and water -- the powerful waters of the Mississippi River, a force that has determined the fate of the area for centuries. 10 years after Katrina, the area is still in the process of rebuilding and it may never return to the vibrancy that it once possessed.
After lunch, students broke into three groups dedicated to providing service for three local, Lower 9th Ward-based organizations dedicated to revitalizing the once devastated community.
Most of the service was gardening work, as creating community gardens has been one of the most successful ways of taking advantage of the wide swaths of cleared land that had once been the site of the hundreds of homesteads that were destroyed. These community garden organizations are designed to beautify the area and provide education and self-sufficiency for the residents of the area. JCHS students got their hands dirty weeding, clearing vegetable beds, even feeding goats. They also had the chance to meet with residents in the area who have been on the forefront of revitalization efforts.
As a reward for their hard work, students got their first taste of the historic and charming French Quarter, where they ate beignets, listened to jazz music playing on street corners and gazed up at the balconies of the traditional houses that lend a gothic air to the quarter.
Returning to the hotel after a full first day, students rested and readied for their first night out -- for a communal bowling game at Rock and Bowl.
JCHS is grateful for generous operational, programmatic, and financial support from:
The Jewish Community High School of the Bay (JCHS) is a unique college preparatory high school committed to integrating deep learning, universal wisdom, and Jewish values. We empower each student to embrace her or his Jewish identity, generate empathy and compassion, delight in lifelong education, and improve the world.