Fifteen students from Yeshivat Frisch went on a chessed mission to Puerto Rico last week, accompanied by Frisch faculty member Rabbi Neil Fleischmann and facilitated by PR4PR, an organization involved in hurricane relief and whose mission is to engage low-income and high-risk children and youth in positive, empowering and productive activities. Rabbi Ethan Katz and Ari Zucker of New Jersey NCSY helped coordinate the details of the trip and accompanied the mission, with NCSY Senior Educator Rabbi Israel Lashak joining for part of the trip.
The Frisch delegation left New Jersey at the crack of dawn on Wednesday May 2, flew for seven hours to the island territory and “hit the ground running,” said Fleischmann. Upon arrival, the students began to build a greenhouse, paint a building and clear weeds for a site that will serve as a space for Puerto Rican youth.
The trip also served as a bonding experience for the students, and at the end of a long workday they had the opportunity to see old San Juan and celebrate Lag B’Omer (and Shabbat) at the local Chabad House. Rabbis Lashak and Fleischmann both spoke and gave presentations over Shabbat. Additionally, “Every single kid on the trip gave a Dvar Torah at some point, some in front of the larger community, and some in front of our group,” recounted Fleischmann.
The students who participated in the trip described the mission as inspiring, rewarding and fun. For Emily Gul ’20, the most rewarding part of the trip was when they completed building the greenhouse and the police officers came to see the students’ work. “The looks of gratitude on their faces were so rewarding and incredible to see,” said Gul.
“For us, building a greenhouse didn’t seem like it was such a big deal, but for the Puerto Rican kids it was a big deal, and something important for them to do,” added Andy Elbaum ’20.
Evan Haimm ’20 also noted how much the chessed delegation’s work meant to the couple whose house they painted. “The couple who owned the home…were so appreciative when we showed up and the look on their faces as we painted their homes was unforgettable. For us to know that a small group of teenagers from New Jersey could do such a minimal act of kindness and change someone’s whole life for the better inspired me to try to do more acts of chessed in the future.”