Valley Stream, NY, December 13, 2012 --(PR.com
)-- In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a group of Israeli teens have volunteered to spend part of their Hanukkah holiday performing a variety of clean-up tasks in the greater New York area. The group calls itself Masa Hashemesh, which roughly translates as “sunlight journey.” And the journey these young people are taking offers a dose of needed sunshine for the stricken area.
Organized by Israel resident Stuart Katz, the trip was inspired by his own weeklong volunteer efforts in the tri-state area. A former Long Island resident, Katz flew back to the states from Israel shortly after learning of the devastation. (His own experiences are documented in a blog series at http://www.deluxekoshertours.com/blog/.)
Upon his return home, Katz’ youngest daughter pleaded for the opportunity to accompany him for a return visit. He told her that if there was still a need, he would let her go over her Hanukkah vacation. After word spread among his daughter’s peers, several other young people volunteered to go.
What started out as a hurricane relief project took on additional urgency, however, as war broke out in Israel during this period. “I realized that we also needed to share information about the situation in Israel with others,” Katz explains. He appreciates the fact that Israeli young people, who now feel under attack, also feel a need to reach out and help others in the U.S. “Homeowners to whom we’ve provided assistance have been astonished at the sense of purpose these kids bring – as well as the amount of work that they can accomplish as a team effort.”
Katz brought his decades of experience as the founder of several travel companies, including Deluxe Kosher Tours and TAL Tours, to the planning of an itinerary that has combined a staggering amount of volunteer work and public speaking with Hanukkah celebrations and – critical for any teen – “hanging out” time.
Since arriving in New York on December 6, the MASA Hashemesh team has been engaged in clean-up and other volunteer efforts from morning to night. In Arverne, for example, the group literally demolished a basement, taking out nails from walls, tearing down sheet rock and other debris to prevent molding, and emptying all the debris curbside. In Long Beach, the group cleaned up a communal backyard and driveway of a condominium unit, cheerfully removing debris in the midst of a downpour.
Next on the list is a day of work in a Brooklyn soup kitchen. Today the teens will be preparing fruits and vegetables and setting up lunch tables at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Why select a Christian church as a locale? Katz notes, “We want to help all people we can – regardless of faith or religion-- and represent Israel proudly.”
Other items on the agenda this week include visits to several local schools, where the volunteers will share their experiences with local students. Mixed in with the volunteer efforts are opportunities for socializing and celebrating the season, including a barbeque this evening and a special Hanukkah dinner tomorrow evening at Congregation Beth Sholom.
Katz has observed that U.S. teens with whom the group has interacted so far seem shocked at first that they are just “normal” teens. Rather than appearing afraid because of recent events in Israel, the Israeli visitors have impressed their peers with their positive attitudes. Several students have expressed an interest for the first time in visiting Israel, a fact that heartens the Israeli group in light of recent perceived strains in U.S. – Israeli relations.
At the beginning of each presentation, the group shares a video that it created prior to the trip (https://www.dropbox.com/s/14ksno04wkapax6/NYC%20... ). It reminds viewers how the similarities between young people transcend the seeming differences. As much as this masa is about rebuilding devastated homes and communities, it is also about building relationships between young people who are an ocean apart, but whose countries share a long history of mutual support.
On Wednesday afternoon, the plane home will be boarded, and Ayelet Koplon, Lipaz Hirsch, Dafna Katz, Brad Eckman, Yoni Wolf, and Rami Lesnick will arrive in Israel in time to spend the last days of Hanukkah with their loved ones – with many stories to tell at their holiday tables.
For further information about Masa Hashemesh, contact Stuart Katz at (516)984-8593.