Day 1 Written by Samantha Kuchlik
We arrived at the airport at 5:30, used the flight to catch up on some rest! Went to Winn Dixie, then K-Mart to buy food and split into our individual cooking groups. Rotating the meal preparing between four groups gives us a chance to bond more intimately with a smaller group of people. Then, we went to a Kosher grocery/deli and ate some delish falafel, cold cuts (for some) and cookies. Today was an adjusting period more or less; we did a lot of bonding and "getting to know each other." We took an hour or so long bus ride to Point Celeste, LA where we will be staying. The trailer is much bigger than expected; kind of house-like, more than trailer-like. We unloaded massive amounts of food and luggage from the bus and got acquainted with our temporary home for the week; some cooked dinner, some did school work, some played Frisbee. It was a beautiful day, so many of us stayed outside. A big herd of animals are gated in a pen near the trailer. We have yet to determine whether they are deer or alpaca, but we will keep you updated (we later learned that they are ELK!). The first group cooked dinner Garlic bread, ziti and cake for dessert and the third cleaned up. A farmer told us an alligator lives in the swamp-ish area about ten feet from the trailer, but we have each used our own discretion to determine whether we believe that or not, "you can do the same!"
Day 2 Written by Tara Blackman
"In Boothville, if you forget to lock your door at night, you won't wake up with your head chopped off in the garbage." - Pastor Turner, Boothville, LA.
Our first 6:45 am wakeup hit us all pretty hard, but the anticipation for what was ahead of us gave us a nice burst of energy. Breakfast conception and lunch prep ran smoothly, as the "cooking teams" system proved its efficiency yet again. We boarded our bus for our virgin trip to Boothville, the place we would spend our next 6 days. Meeting Pastor Theodore Turner was inspiring and his positive attitude was contagious. He told us of the community and their struggles with the hurricanes that struck - both Katrina and Rita. People's homes and schools and stores were demolished and the government and insurance agencies weren't providing adequate support, both emotionally and financially. Pastor Turner decided to devote his life to the recovery, and organizes trips for community service groups to come and built. We boarded the bus and drove through the marshes with Pastor Turner narrating, Larry Spencer driving and alligators and pelicans providing entertainment. After the tour of the marshes and community (what there is left), we grabbed our lunches and ate at Ft. Jackson park, a civil war ft taken over by the north, granting them control of the Miss. The park was surrounded by beautiful trees with a strong sun beating down as we ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We left the park and headed to the work site, passing through what once was the center of town. Seeing the demolished school, library and stores hit some of us hard, sparking more motivation within us to give back to this parish (county) in need. Pastor Turner showed us the building we would be working on for the next week - a center for future volunteers to stay in when they come to help out that is comfortable. We spent the next 3 hours preparing walls for sheetrock by hammering in stray nails and cleaning them off, while simultaneously cleaning the floors to prepare them for tiles. It was impressive to see how much we got accomplished. Tomorrow should be ready the sheetrock. We returned home, team A prepared a delicious kosher dinner of peanut noodles, mixed vegetables and chocolate cake, followed by game playing and a group reflection. Tomorrow should be another great day.
Day 3 written by Meaghan McNamara
Today, Brendy Hyme came to visit our group. I would start this entry stating that we began our day by waking up at 6:45 am and worked till 4pm, but it seems to me that today's work related even is blurred in comparison to several moments that truly fixed the foundations of this trip. First off, as I've said, we met Brenda today - she is a woman who has endured an endless amount of tribulations, not only as a result of the land devastation left in the hurricane's wake, but through her journey of self identity. Of her own volition, Brenda grew away from her ways of pre-judgment and towards the ability to read people beyond their complexions. Additionally, LA showed us its hospitality through state native Larry Spencer - our new friend hired to drive us from our living location to our working location. Larry did not simply sit in his drivers' seat, he shared his personal August 2005 experiences, provided the students with a much needed supply of ice and promised to arrive for work tomorrow, not only to drive us back and forth, but to pick up a hammer and join in on the relief party himself. It is the Boothville natives like Brenda and larry and Reverend turner who bare a tremendous amount of duty and the non-natives such as Rabbi Shalom, Preston, Adam and Jere and the peers around me that proved to me that Katrina didn't attack Black people or white people or rich people or poor people, Katrina bombarded LA relentlessly, regardless of race or class. It is sad for me to think that it took the annihilation of a beautiful place like Boothville to throw equalization in the face of its citizens and the citizens of America as a whole (and I still don't think that it did). But this is what God gave us to deal with and the unexpected yet truly inspiring response was for the citizens to unite in their community for a single common goal - bringing back Boothville. "Every board you nail is hope." - Brenda Hyme.
Day 4 written by Alexa Klorman
As the 6:45 am wakeup call sounded around the trailer, all of our aching muscles sprang out of bed, ready for another day of building. We all ate our breakfast, and prepared our filling and delicious lunch, ready to face our fourth day in the small little southern town of Boothville. This day was equipped with several more hammers, several buckets of nails and dozens of new sunburns. We proudly put the finishing touches on the siding of the house and began the foundation for the dining room / living room tiles. Some brave souls tackled the roofing and ceiling as others admired their allegiance and dedication to the job. We had the honor of meeting Pastor Turner's father in law, whose backyard was the chosen ground for our construction extravaganza. Although our fragile thumbs faced some good bruising from the hammers, the award goes to Rabbi Shalom who's fingers got into a little bloody trouble with a nail removal confusion (he's OK, no worries), but our encouragement and bandages got him back on his feet in minutes as he returned to the carpentry. As our day came to a close, our Bus ride took a Mardi Gras themed turn as our hard-working driver gave us beaded necklaces to finish off the day. As the smell of our Indian cuisine cooking and the sound of clinking poker chips fills the air, we all wait with bated breath to see what obstacles and excitement we will face tomorrow.
Day 5 written by Leah Orden
The day began like the others. A rush for breakfast and lunch. A rushing scenery of Boothville passing the bus windows on the way to our work site. It has become familiar, able to predict when to press record in order to catch a video of the rusted i-beam skeleton of a church. I wonder how the citizens of this area can pass this every day. It's like asking a rape victim to pass their rapist every morning, noon and night. The hurricane has not left. Fresh brick buildings cover up the spot where a previous building died. But reminders are everywhere: a house open as if it became sick and vomited its contents, a piece of metal roof lodged in a tree, rows of abandoned damaged cars lost in the brush, a boat beached where the receding water left it, a stand alone staircase with no home to lead to, a single brick wall, a windowless high school...
In the 9th ward of New Orleans, we were walking into a ghost neighborhood. A few brick buildings were rebuilt, but the rest wereleft standing but emptied as if never lived in. The wooden houses, the majority of the neighborhood, could not be called houses any more. Wall-less, roofless, windowless, not there at all. No sounds of families, nothing but a single car of people driving through to ogle the devastation. X's marred the ruins of homes - the number at the bottom was the number found dead only after the water had receded. The dates of inspection - 9/11, 9/21, 9/25 - so long after the hurricane. Our guide said she's once seen an X with 10 at the bottom.
Amidst this haunting sobering world of post-Katrina, exists a sense of hope and humor. The French Quarter was lively. My friend said, "the further down Bourbon St you go, the drunker they get." Mardi Gras lived, beads being thrown down to the street. Tourism stores became crowded easily, selling such things as "Katrina Hot Sauce- It'll blow you away" and a bumper sticker "I took my Chevy to the levee and the levee was gone!"
It is still New Orleans, but it is not the same New Orleans, it has experienced and aged slightly. For years, I have wanted to visit, imagined living here. I put it down as my preference for my Teach for America placement. Their public schools even now are being fantastically built from the ground up, envisioned, improved. I realize now that if I am employed here, live here, it will not be the New Orleans I imagined, it will be something real.
Day 6 written by Alexis Klorman
We woke up about 15 minutes earlier this morning. We all wanted to get to the site a few minutes before in order to be ready to work before the Southern Mutual Help Association arrived to inspect our progress. Before leaving for Boothville, we all decided to donate a few extra dollars to tip our amazing bus driver, but instead, we realized that we could buy him a citrus tree with the money - something he has always wanted but couldn't afford.
We were all tired from the night before in New Orleans, but we knew how important our commitment was to Souther Mutual, so we ignored our exhaustion and continued to work. As they were arriving, some of the groupwas adding finishing touches to the siding, some wiring and some working on the floor. When they finally arrived they were excited to see our progress and continuous commitment to the project. Before lunchtime, we finished the diding for the backside of the house, and of course that was very exciting for all of us. After spending about 20 minutes photographing our accomplishment we finally got back to work and focused our last 2 hours on the flooring, wiring and the siding on the side of the house. Around 1pm our group split, while some were needed back at the trailer to prepare our huge Shabbat feast while other stayed back at the site to complete as much as possible. It began to hit us all round 2 pm that the week was coming to a close and our work in Boothville was completed (for the time being). Around 2:30 we cleaned up, took some last photos and thought about our experience in Boothville. I could feel the different emotions fill the bus as we drove away.
As Shabbat quickly approached, the whole house got into the festive mood, cleaining, cooking and preparing the house for "shemira Shabbat." It was exciting and nerve wracking to know that we had such a short amount of time to prepare. We all got dressed up in our nice Shabbat clothes, sat around in a circle and began our service. In order to allow everyone to feel comfortable, Rabbi Shalom explained certain traditions and prayers. After our short but educational service, we ate our wonderful Mexican Shabbat dinner. It was a wonderful day filled with many great moments.
Day 7 written by Lydia Stamato
Animals need food and shelter. Humans, too, require these basic necessities. But ultimately, we want much more than that.
The house we helped to rebuild this week could have been built faster and better by a crew of paid professionals. A "house" for volunteers is needed, but it becomes more than simply a house when built by other volunteers. We have become a part of it, and it a part of us.
Actions, such as rebuilding the Gulf Coast, though necessary and good, become meaningful when the intentions fueling them are love, generosity, respect and justice.
Neither actions nor intentions is completely superior to the other. Both are necessary. To discover the point of balance we ask ourselves basic questions: What is it to be human? What do we want our life experience to be? What is important to us?
We have worked hard this week, but if we do not take care of our own selves - our bodies and our spirits - we will not be able to give of ourselves. We also need time to develop our intent. This is one reason why taking time to rest is not wasted time, but rather an opportunity to sustain and revive ourselves and each other.