by Darian Leib
Site Director, Mitzvah Corps of the South
A few days ago, Mitzvah Corps of the South’s celebrated our first day volunteering down in New Orleans. Everyone was excited to get started, see the places we’d be working, and learn more about our place in helping to rebuild a community who still struggles every day with the disaster that struck the area nearly 7 years ago. We had the great fortune of working at the Lower 9th Ward Village, a community center in a section of New Orleans that was hit incredibly hard during Hurricane Katrina. During our time there, we helped paint a house, clean up the community center, weed and clean up a garden, and best of all, we met and played with some of the amazing children who live in the neighborhood.
Mack, the organization’s founder and executive director, took time to share his personal story with our group. He talked about Hurricane Katrina’s accidental blessings and how he felt he had finally, after 50 years, found his purpose in life – to reach out and help others in his community. Despite having experienced so much hardship in his own life, Mack exemplifies someone who truly understands the importance of helping others and performing tikkun olam. The words tikkun olam themselves refer to responsibility we have as a Jewish community to help fix the world around us, to right the wrongs we witness, and to stand up for injustices.
Despite all Mack’s selfless giving, he continuously referred to our teens as “heroes” for giving so much of themselves to help out a community in need. I have thought a lot about the give-and-take of performing tikkun olam and our responsibility as Jews to help repair. While helping others in need, we oftentimes feel closer to finding our own purpose in our community and, even greater, in the world.
Even though it has only been a few days, according to our “summer program clock” it has felt like weeks, as our group has already grown to become a family. I am constantly impressed with the teens and their actions, ideas, and thoughtful words. As much as this program will be a learning experience for them, I have already learned so much from them in our short time together. When I think about what Mack said about finding each of our own purposes, I feel confident that this is part of my purpose. These next two weeks will be a journey that I’m so excited for the 30 of us to take together.