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Archive for : Hurricane Sandy

Sandy Relief Interview: Avigail Hurvitz-Prinz

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Repair has sought to bring you stories from service superstars reflecting on their volunteerism. This week we are excited to feature a guest post by Avigail Hurvitz-Prinz, who volunteered at an evacuation shelter in the days immediately following the storm:

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is a bit hard to process, but I realized that some of my friends and family really didn’t understand what has been going on here so I’m going to do my best to share some of my thoughts and some of my ideas in order to give folks who aren’t right here (and even some of us who are) a bit of a chance to better understand what’s going on and even a bit more of a sense of how to help.

The actual Hurricane had only the smallest effect on me and mine — our internet went out, and the sound of the wind was terrifying but I went to sleep early and when I woke up in the morning and went outside it looked like we’d had a big storm, but the mat of (mostly green) leaves on the ground and a few downed branches on my block were the only signs that there’d been a storm. That first day after the storm became “hurrication,” particularly in my lovely neighborhood. With no transportation options open, and limited access to computer systems across the city, the day was devoted to walking around with friends, finding the spots that were open and drinking coffee in our regular cafes. The mood was joyous and celebratory, aware of how lucky we were. I ran into a bunch of my favorite neighbors and enjoyed the chance to sit with them and enjoy an extra day of vacation. It took me a couple days to begin to understand the desolation the storm had wrought. I still can’t really comprehend it.

On Thursday I got dressed to go to work, thinking that I was going to go to my placement. But, our computers were down and my supervisor couldn’t get into the office — so she suggested that I not come in. So, I ran back home and thanks to my roommate, got motivated to do some volunteering. I got some donations together of books and games and went to the evacuation center in my neighborhood. One of the best high schools in Brooklyn is in my neighborhood, Brooklyn Tech, and it has been turned into an evacuation shelter, particularly for nursing homes and adult home facilities in Coney Island and The Rockaways. For all of the challenges before these folks they have hot food, heat, hot water for showers, a safe place to sleep, and medical attention whenever they need it.

I went in to volunteer and waited for a while before a person asked me to join her in the gym. She explained quickly that she was a volunteer who was hoping to come back for another overnight shift, but that she’d already been dealing with a medical situation this morning. The folks in the gym where I spent most of my time were people who live in an adult home — most have pretty severe psychiatric diagnoses, are isolated and have very limited resources. In that room most of the people were ambulatory, but slow and often unsteady on their feet. The first thing I noticed when I went into the gym was the smell of a mass of humanity who haven’t been able to change clothes in days. The folks I met who’d been evacuated from the adult home reminded me of folks that I meet at my placement — people living on public assistance who are pretty slow moving – mentally and physically. Just like at my placement there’s a question about why that is — is it their negative symptoms of schizophrenia that I’m seeing? or is this a side effect of the meds they’re taking? or is this just boredom and not being engaged enough?

The gym was full of cots, I’d estimate about 175 in that one space. People are living their entire lives with no privacy, with no quiet, no pillow and one blanket. So my volunteer job that I appointed myself to do was to walk around slowly, making eye contact with the people who were awake. People would call me over occasionally to ask for water or coffee. Coffee was a bit of a challenge but, following the lead of the volunteer before me, i’d stealthily steal cups from the staff lounge. People requested 3, 4 even 6 sugars / sweeteners. It blew my mind a little bit, but the last thing I wanted to do was to be stingy with anything for these folks, given how few resources and pleasures they had. Which isn’t to say that I don’t have complicated feelings about this.

But back to the context. For whatever reason, those places on Coney Island weren’t evacuated until the water was literally coming into their buildings. Their staff of nurses had been with them since the evacuation and hadn’t been home to their families or on a real break since their arrival. They were exhausted and grumpy, and one of the first task I put myself on was trying to figure out how to help them. This ultimately meant finding snacks, juices and sugar for coffees for the nurses and trying to get them to smile.

Over the 10 or so hours that I volunteered over two days I had some of the following interactions:

  • A evacuee I’ll call Phil (age 64) serenaded me multiple times (some songs he wrote and a rendition of New York, New York and Maria), shared his diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, told me about missing his wife who’s been dead for a few years and also about the abuse he suffered in childhood. I took him “shopping” in the clothing donations and helped him find clean socks, underwear and some warm clothes. He drinks his coffee with 4 sugars and spends most of his social security checks buying cigarettes and coffee for friends. He was warm and visibly excited to see me each time I came to visit.
  • Another evacuee named Margie was separated from her group and had difficulty walking through the building to find them. She sent me out looking — and I was happy to help but spent about an hour trying to track them down (unsuccessfully). After about another hour of work I managed to confirm that they were still there and even talk to one of the shelter staff about her situation and change her misspelled name in the center’s database. She seems to have a tough life and was probably recently homeless and living in a long-term shelter. We exchanged little notes written on scraps of paper. An except from the one she wrote to me …yes, these are trying times but your sincerity really lifted my spirits…
  • This one’s gonna be in Jewish code — I’ll translate with more details for you in another email if you want. In talking to some of the residents from the adult home it seemed like the orthodox Jews weren’t eating the non-kosher food they were being served — which means days of subsisting on fruit and carrots and yogurt. I did some asking around and got a little bit of kosher food delivered to them thanks to a local Chabad rabbi and his networks. I did not manage to get a particular evacuee a chumash, though thanks to friends of mine we did get him bsamim for havdallah. So when I saw him preparing to do the ritual I asked him if I could join — and he said yes. So this old, browbeaten, isolated and ill ultra-Orthodox guy made havdallah for me. Using the spices and the grape juice I had managed to get for him. He had no idea what to make of me in my jeans, but I felt like I really had done a real chesed for him. I can’t think of another context where we’d have any interaction as positive as that one, but after havdallah I wished him a shavuah tov and started to walk away when he called me back to say “a gut voch.”

I’ve never done crisis work before — and I feel blessed to have been a little bit prepared for it by Social Work School. I feel a lot of security in the choice that I made to do this program — and that those skills of helping people connect with resources have never been more useful.

I have been having real feelings — guilt, anger, frustration, pride, joy, and then back around to guilt, anger, frustration, pride, joy and on and on. It has been incredibly important to me in the last few days to try to hold contradictions in mind …eilu v’eilu…

I am incredibly lucky and blessed. My friends, my family are safe and sound and healthy. We were, at worst, inconvenienced. And, many of my people are at their best right now. I’m inspired by my two closest tribes — the Jewish community and my friends in Brooklyn. I’m inspired by their efforts. I also observe that the people who are best mobilized are plugging into community organizations that are expert organizers (like synagogues, churches and Occupy).

It hardly conveys how much hard work they’ve done, but I know that they have:

  • bought and distributed cold weather clothes,
  • biked supplies to distant locations that are difficult to reach due to gas shortages,
  • worked overnight volunteer shifts at evacuation shelters,
  • planned benefit concerts,
  • baked treats for volunteers,
  • delivered supplies to homebound seniors,
  • and just generally behaved with true menchlichkeit.

That said, there is so much need. It is hard to comprehend from our safe homes. It is also totally mind-blowing to think about how physically close the destruction is. But most of the people I know have resources and can do much to share them. Not just today, but in the long aftermath of the storm.

Some people feel confused about how to give, or guilty that they aren’t able to give enough. I want to put myself out there as a resource to help you talk through some of your ideas and work towards finding you ways to plug in. I imagine there could be some small way of contributing to the relief efforts in a way that makes sense for you. It could be as simple as donating a bit of time or money to Occupy Sandy, or following the posts on Congregation Beth Elohim’s facebook page for up to date information about needs they’ve identified or donating blood in NYC or nationally. Nechama is coordinating cleanup efforts in the NJ Jewish community. If you just have a bit of cash you can buy supplies on this Amazon registry that will be shuttled out to places that need them.

Even though the storm hit the East Coast almost three months ago, so many people continue to suffer. The sites listed above remain great resources to find ways to participate in the relief effort, and new ways to help as needs continue to develop every day. I’m thrilled that so many people have been able to chip in as individuals — but this truly is a national disaster, and deserves a national response. So, don’t forget to continue to help to preserve our country’s commitment to real people, who depend on each other for support in good times and in hard times.

Sending love from Brooklyn,

Avigail

Alternative Winter Breaks for Sandy Relief: Rebuilding in Breezy Point

Benjy Brandwein’s home in Belle Harbor, Queens (next to Breezy Point) was badly damaged in Hurricane Sandy. So in the days after the storm, the mechanical engineering student rallied friends to come help him recover and rebuild. Inspired by the outpouring of support, he wanted to help other people rebuild as well.

His opportunity arrived a few weeks later when he received a call from the Bnei Akiva youth group, asking if he could organize an alternative winter break trip for Jewish college students who were home in New York for break. As long time supporter of the Bnei Akiva (he’s been a camp counselor and program coordinator there, and is currently involved in coordinating year-round programming), Benjy jumped at the chance. Partnering with Habitat for Humanity oF Westchester, and with micro-grant support from Repair the World, the program he created paid the kindness he’d received forward, and enabled students to make a difference.

How did the service program come about?
My house was severely damaged in the Hurricane. Once the storm passed, I posted on Facebook to rally friends, and had a lot of people come out to help me. A few weeks after the storm, I got a call from the heads of Bnei Akiva in New York saying they wanted to host some kind of volunteer program to help homeowners whose homes had been damaged or destroyed. They were open to any kind of program, so I put together a schedule and budget for a mission that partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Westchester. The idea was that participants would volunteer during the daylight hours, and have bonding activities – like going to the movies and hanging out – in the evening.

One of my bosses let me know that Repair the World was offering micro-grants to support Sandy recovery alternative breaks in New York. We applied and received the funding, which really helped us move the project forward.

How many participants did you have?
We ended up with 12 college student participants from all over the New York area – they drove in from as far away as Riverdale, Washington Heights, and the 5 Towns.

What kind of projects did they work on?
We split into two groups of 6 every day. We had the teams help with demolition – in one of the houses, all the floors had to be ripped up. In other cases, they shoveled sand or removed debris. Their volunteer work was dictated by whatever the needs were in a specific house.

Whose houses did you work on?
Habitat for Humanity had a station set up in Breezy Point where homeowners could come to them and say, “I need help with X,Y,Z,” and they’d help match needs with volunteers. Each morning around 9:30 we would head over there and be sent wherever we were needed. In most cases, the people we were helping would be there watching us rip up their homes and getting all the debris out. Seeing their reaction to having their homes demolished was difficult at times.

What kind of response did you see in participants?
At the beginning, the overwhelming response from participants was, “Wow – what are we doing coming into people’s homes and destroying them?” But they came to realize that tearing down the damaged structures was a part of the rebuilding process. In the end they were happy to have helped. They didn’t realize in advance just how bad the damage was, and they were excited to make a positive difference.

And how about your response? You put together a pretty amazing program!
Honestly, I was slightly overwhelmed. I had never done anything like this. I had worked as a camp counselor before and done a little construction work on my house, but to put them together to help people was entirely new. Luckily, Habitat for Humanity made it all easy. They were there to help us through the process. We have a second group of alternative break students coming next week, and I am looking forward to doing it all again.

A Resolution to Serve and Innovate

One of the grace notes in an otherwise grim close to 2012 was the powerful human urge to help others who were suffering. That beautiful impulse came shining through the darkness. We have a need to respond and not be bystanders. Like a gravitational pull, our humanity seems to demand it.

In New York and New Jersey thousands of volunteers traveled to assist in areas that were hardest hit by the storm. Creative thinkers, local activists, innovators — individuals, corporations and small businesses — those with that indescribable urge to DO something thought outside the box came up with solutions to help those in need.

After months of training, when one marathoner, Conley Downing, realized that hundreds of hotel rooms would be left vacant by the eventual cancelation of the New York City Marathon, she quickly organized a popup nonprofit, Race2RecoverNYC.com, that matched up those displaced by Sandy with already paid for hotel rooms. It went viral immediately.

When millions of New Yorkers were left without power and unable to buy batteries for flashlights because stores were closed, Sun Giant, a New York-based solar power startup, initiated a drive to donate solar powered lanterns to New Yorkers without light.

And building on its high-end food truck phenomenon, in the days after Sandy, JetBlue and the New York City Food Truck Association worked to turn the cottage industry into a mobile soup kitchen, distributing some 25,000 meals by 20 trucks throughout the region.

When done in partnership with the local community, these types of social innovation form bonds between organizations and communities. They inspire smart thinking. They simply help. That’s why after a disaster, we must first assess the actual needs of the community with the community, and then collaborate to create a solution that meets those needs. And, to have the most impact, we should challenge the way things have been done in the past.

Social innovation can help create smarter, stronger solutions. It can connect first responders with the tools they need to effectively help. It can bridge a community and create an action plan when the Internet goes down. It can help us build better materials, push forward smarter planning and foster an experienced volunteer corps.

Catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy have forced us to think about new ways to address old problems like flooding, power outages and disaster preparedness. While we’ll never be able to prevent the kind of potential damage wrought by natural disasters, we have an opportunity to rebuild more than the physical structure in our communities. We can rebuild a person’s hope.

As the new year begins, instead of just making a resolution to lose five pounds or to call your mother more often (both fine objectives), make a commitment to think differently. Pledge to look around your community and think about what is needed. Ask your neighbors what they need. And resolve to innovate — to use your skills, your expertise and your desire to do good to find both new and old solutions to our biggest challenges — crisis or not.

Follow Rabbi Will Berkovitz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@CitizenRabbi

 

Sandy Relief Interview: Rami Matan Even-Esh, AKA: Kosha Dillz

beverlydillzVolunteer: Kosha Dillz

Who he is:  Israeli-American Jewish hip hop artist

Rami Matan Even-Esh, better known by his stage name Kosha Dillz, is an Israeli-American rapper who is no stranger to the East Coast. Although he spent time in both Israel and the U.S. while growing up, Kosha was born in Perth Amboy and has close ties to the Jersey community.

We’re very excited to have had the opportunity to speak with Kosha, and learn more about his experiences during and after Hurricane Sandy hit his hometown.

Why did you decide to volunteer after Sandy?

I was at my family’s home in Manasquan, NJ getting ready to head back to LA when the storm arrived on the East Coast. My town was hit pretty hard and we ended up without power for eleven days. It was a crazy experience because on the one hand it was weird to think that it should take a natural disaster to bring a community together, but on the other hand it was incredible to see the way everyone was so eager to help.

It felt very natural for me to volunteer in Jersey after the Hurricane hit. I felt a very personal connection to the destruction, not only because the storm literally hit close to home, but because I saw first hand the way many of my friends and neighbors were affected, and I knew I of course wanted to help in any way I could.

What did you do in the days following the storm?

I became very involved in the cleanup efforts. I found many different activities to participate in; one day I’d be working in demolition and gutting a ruined house, and the next I’d be making sandwiches and coffee for people in my neighborhood. I also started bringing my dog with me to volunteer. People loved petting him and taking pictures with him, it was nice to be able to bring a little cheer to a neighborhood that was going through something really rough. Cheer is important at a time like this.

Kosha Dillz Sandy Storify

Check out Kosha Dillz’ Sandy Storify here.

How did you respond to your fans that reached out to help?

I’m fortunate to have a great fan base that follows me on social media. It was amazing to be able to tweet, Facebook, or Instagram something about a particular area needing help, and then being able to see that tweet or post spread throughout my fan-base, to their friends, to friends of friends, to people not just in our neighborhood but from all over, all getting involved and offering time, services, or money to help.

Has your volunteer work had an impact on your life or music?

Going through Sandy and getting involved in the recovery efforts has definitely influenced both my life and music. I feel that this experience has really caused a lot of self-reflection. You start to think about what is most important to you, and in my case I know that giving has always been a priority.

Back when the earthquake hit Haiti for example, we did a tour to raise money for relief efforts, and that was one of my favorite experiences. I also recently did a show in Brooklyn; we passed around a bucket for Sandy donations, and people gave what they could, every little bit helps.

Anytime I can use my music to give back definitely represents some of the most fulfilling times in my life; I feel the best when I have the chance to make a meaningful impact, and this most recent experience with the storm has re-sparked that desire within me.

What do you most want to share about your experience?

My immediate takeaway was that getting involved in both donating money and time were equally meaningful. It’s great to be able to get involved in the physical work (making sandwiches, cleaning out houses) and I loved doing it, but I think it’s also important to note that giving monetary donations, or getting involved in other ways in the future is important as well. People will continue to need many things after the initial response has died down, so I think it’s important to follow Facebook and Twitter feeds of smaller groups, like the Occupy movement, for ways to stay updated and involved.

I’d also really like to emphasize that the point of volunteering is not to be recognized or thanked, but to help in a meaningful way. That is what I tried to do and what I hope to encourage others to continue to do.

___

A huge thanks to Kosha Dillz for taking the time to speak with us about his experiences.

Be sure to check out his songs, and consider donating to his Kickstarter to support the upcoming documentary “Kosha Dillz is Everywhere.” 

 

JRR & Repair the World to Host Sandy Recovery Benefit Concerts!

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Repair the World is excited to announce that we will be part of the upcoming JRR Rock Your World Web Concert Series!

The concert series will occur over six nights and will showcase six of the top Jewish music artists, each partnered with a great Jewish cause! We are thrilled to join the series kickoff event, with a benefit concert on January 9th at 8:30pm featuring an intimate, live, and unplugged performance by Sheldon Low. All proceeds will go to benefit Repair the World’s Sandy Recovery efforts. One week later on Jan. 16th, we hope you’ll join us again for a second benefit concert featuring singer/songwriter Jay Rappaport.

Not only will these concerts be entertaining and supporting a great cause, but they will also be INTERACTIVE. By donating and watching the concerts online, you will have the opportunity to interact LIVE with each artist during the show. Ask questions, comment, and even request songs throughout the experience.

Jewish Rock Radio (JRR) is a 24/7 international Jewish rock online radio station broadcasting Jewish rock artists from the US, Israel, and the rest of the world, as well as celebrity interviews and interviews with youth from around the U.S. JRR is the flagship program of St. Louis-based Judaism Alive, a nonprofit formed in 2009 to strengthen Jewish identity and connection for youth through their love of music, musical instruments, and online interaction.

Purchase tickets for the Repair the World & JRR Rock Your World Web Concert Series for only $1.00

Learn more about Repair the World, and our Sandy Recovery efforts