Our headquarters for the trip was at a Church in Breezy Point where Habitat for Humanity had set up an emergency response center for relief efforts following the storm. At this center, Israelis from IsraAid worked hand-in-hand with members of Habitat for Humanity. The shared sense of commitment to the victims and the dedication to do hard work was quite apparent from the onset.
The first house we arrived at, located in the Rockaways, was in worse condition than I had ever imagined. It had already been almost completely torn apart, and we were basically putting the finishing touches on it. I was presented with a body suit and asked to remove insulation from underneath the floor. It was a tedious task and I experienced some fears that I did not know I had. It was dark, dirty, and quite closed in. I do not believe I have claustrophobia, but I did not enjoy being down beneath the floor. At the end of the trip, though, I’d say that was my favorite experience. It was the first task I was asked to do and I felt quite important being asked to do that work. It showed me that the Israelis who we were working with felt that I would be able to do that work and that helped me with the remainder of the trip.
On the first day of the trip, we worked in a second house which did not seem as if it was in disrepair like the first, but soon we realized how immense our task was. This house had not been touched until we arrived there that day. It was a little over two months past the storm and the home owners had not reached out to anyone nor had anyone reached out to them. Over the course of that afternoon and the next day and even the next day, we cleaned out that house taking out almost every single thing that could be removed leaving heaping piles of trash in front and behind the house to be picked up later. This house was most likely a great house before Sandy, but water completely filled the basement, and it reached the first floor of the house ruining almost everything. The house belonged to a father and his son. The mother was separated from the husband, but since the husband had recently had his leg amputated, she was present in the house with her son when we were working telling us what to save and what to put in the trash pile. To me, this work was not what I had thought we’d be doing either. I expected to rebuild the city. Instead, we had been tearing the city down. Now, we were essentially doing what my mom does every spring: spring cleaning. Though this was not pleasant spring cleaning and the work was not the most enjoyable, I realized that we were directly helping this family start over after the storm. This process may have been painful for them, but it was also completely necessary work to do and we were the ones doing it.
This trip was an unbelievable experience for many reasons. I loved getting to know Tori, Robbie, Jamie, and Brian throughout this week. I feel that we’ve become closer and we’ve really gotten to know each other. But in term of the work, I think that this trip was significant for me because there were multiple times when the work seemed too difficult and I would want to not have to do the certain task I was assigned to do, but throughout all of that, I persevered and pushed on to do those difficult tasks. Yes, there were times when I asked someone else to help me or I took a break after a difficult and strenuous task, but I always went back to the task that I was assigned. The other significant aspect of this was the fact that Israelis and Habitat for Humanity were working together with remarkable results. Though it felt as if each clean-up took a long time, it was really short compared to how long it could have been. We worked remarkably quickly, did a tremendous amount, and were able to make a significant impact.
Unfortunately, there is a lot more that needs to be done and there are not enough volunteers. I hope that more people will go to New York to volunteer to cause change in New York and help peoples’ lives return to normal. If that does not happen, Hurricane Sandy’s impact will be seen long after it hit land on the East Coast.
by Gideon Horberg