Last Hanukkah, six Israeli teenagers from Hashmonaim and Bet Shemesh visited New York in order to assist with cleaning up the mess that still existed from Hurricane Sandy. Stuart Katz, who organized the group after his daughter had expressed interest in visiting the area after he went on a similar trip himself, asserted, “Unfortunately, there are still areas that need tremendous assistance.” When he visited New York, many businesses and homes were still devastated, and many people were still waiting in long lines for gasoline.

Katz shared that the holiday spirit is what drove him to do this. He said, “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 Hanukah we thought something light-oriented would be appropriate.” The Masa Hashemesh group decided to focus on neighborhoods that were not so well off to begin with, in order to make their impact felt more.

 

The teenagers financed their own travel expenses to the United States and while in New York focused on helping victims of Hurricane Sandy and doing ‘mitzvot’ (Hebrew expression meaning ‘good deeds’). Their work included demolishing a destroyed basement in a house in Queens, cleaning up a Long Beach condominium’s backyard in the midst of a rainstorm, assisting in a food kitchen run out of a Brooklyn church, and celebrating Hanukkah with Diaspora Jewish children who were affected by the storm. In addition, the teenagers spoke at 20 New York schools about their lives in Israel.

New Yorkers responded very positively to the Israeli groups’ efforts. Katz asserted, “Homeowners were very appreciative – they couldn’t believe that the journey was put together so quickly and were astonished that young citizens of Israel (who they feel are under attack so much) feel a need to come and help. They were amazed with the work that could be accomplished by teens with a team effort.”

The children had a very positive effect on the American audiences to whom they spoke. Katz remarked, “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 their plans previously. Our purpose is to show that we help all people – regardless of faith or religion.”

By Rachel Avraham