‘Sunshine Journey’ brought Israeli teens to New York to continue relief efforts following the devastating superstorm.
By Avigayil Kadesh
Hashmonaim resident Stuart Katz rushed to New York on November 3, 2012, after Superstorm Sandy devastated so many homes and businesses in his former home on Long Island, New York. He volunteered at a shelter in Far Rockaway, relieved people waiting in long gasoline lines and drove voters to the polls on Election Day.
When he came back from his 10-day trip, his 15-year-old daughter said she wanted to go as well, and the upcoming Hanukah vacation seemed like the right time to do it.
“Unfortunately, there are still areas that need tremendous assistance,” Katz says.
So on December 6, more than a month after the disaster, Katz accompanied his daughter, Dafna, and five other 10th-graders from Hashmonaim and Beit Shemesh to New York.
“When we contacted various organizations a few weeks ago telling them what we wanted to do, they all asked the name of our organization,” he relates. “As we were strictly grassroots-oriented, we decided to call ourselves ‘Masa Hashemesh’ [Sunshine Journey] in light of what was happening in Israel and in the US at the same time. We wanted to bring some sunshine, and since it was over Hannukah we thought something light-oriented would be appropriate.”
They focused on relief efforts on neighborhoods “that weren’t so well-off to begin with,” as he puts it.
“Homeowners were very appreciative – they couldn’t believe that the journey was put together so quickly and were astonished that kid citizens of Israel (who they feel are under attack so much) feel a need to come and help,” says Katz. “They were amazed with the work that could be accomplished by teens with a team effort.”
The teens paid their own way, and spent a week doing various good works. They demolished a ruined basement in a house in the Arverne neighborhood of Queens, New York, removing nails from the walls, tearing down sodden sheetrock and carrying debris to the curb to help the homeowner prepare for repairs.
Braving a rainstorm, they cleaned up a Long Beach condominium’s backyard and driveway. And they prepared fruits and vegetables and set tables for lunch at a soup kitchen run out of a Brooklyn church.
The kids also brought Israeli spirit to Hannukah parties in Long Beach and Brighton Beach, which were especially hard hit by the storm.
In addition, Katz arranged for the group to speak about their lives in Israel at 20 area schools. These peer meetings were opened by a short video that the team produced in their hometowns before their journey, geared to sending the message that “We aren’t as different from each other as the media might make you believe.”
The sessions seemed to have an immediate positive impact, Katz reports.
“They were shocked by the fact that the Israelis are just ‘normal’ teens and that they’re not scared of what’s happening in Israel. A few have even said they would now like to visit Israel, which was not in the plans previously.”
“Our purpose is to show that we help all people – regardless of faith or religion,” says Katz.