Over the first weekend of April, during the NFTY SO Spring Kallah at Jacobs Camp we traveled to volunteer in a small town called Rolling Fork that had been hit by a tornado, about an hour away. When we arrived in Rolling Fork, the damage was apparent. Many houses had been broken, and roofs were crumbled. People were dispersed throughout the town, but as we arrived at the distribution center I noticed a number of people swarming about. We immediately got off the bus and began unloading. We grabbed the donations and sorted them into the appropriate piles. Afterwards, we filed into a deserted senior classroom. There, Fred Miller, the former mayor of Rolling Fork, explained the events that had occurred the night of the tornado and told us about how neighbors had scrambled to aid the town in the immediate aftermath. Fred’s daughter divided us up into groups, from which we proceeded directly to our respective jobs. I went with the group who handled food packaging, and we split up further from there into the people who literally made the boxes and those who filled them with food. The room was full of NFTY teens, you couldn’t look in any direction without seeing them diligently working at their stations.
Volunteering in Rolling Fork was an extremely humbling experience. None of us individually stood out or could have done much, but as a unit of 80+ teens and even more volunteers we managed to do a lot of good. Even with the grim situation, everyone was extremely amiable and happy to help with mundane tasks. Despite working alongside my close friends, we were not distracted at all. Somehow, everyone understood the task at hand. Instead of diverting our attention from what was important, our connections only allowed us to be even more productive and work like a well-oiled machine.
This volunteering was important as a Jewish teenager because it was a perfect example of Tikkun Olam. It perfectly encompassed the quote from Pirkei Avot “You are not required to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” None of us did everything. Even as a whole group we didn’t do everything. Nevertheless, when we were called to action- to help this town within our community- we didn’t desist. We dived in headfirst and helped as much as we could. Being Jewish in the south is also a huge part of my, and likely my peers’, identity and was a huge factor in why we helped. Growing up as a southern Jew, community has always been huge to me. Sometimes, my community feels like a huge extended family. I see them all the time, at every big event such as a holiday or smaller ones like birthdays. We celebrate, pray, and grieve together. We eat at each other’s houses and reach out to each other when we need help. My Jewish friends at times feel less like friends and more like cousins. (To be honest though, more than a few of us literally are cousins.) So when we were called to volunteer in Rolling Fork, it wasn’t just helping some strangers because we had to. It was aiding people in our extended southern community. More personally, I am aware that I, among several other of my peers, have family roots in Rolling Fork as well as many other towns like these. Our community is large and intertwined. This has truly been an inspiring experience and I hope that the community of Rolling Fork continues to heal from this devastating occurrence.
About the Author
Gracie is one of 80 NFTY Southern region teens who volunteered in the distribution center in Rolling Fork last Saturday, April 1.
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NFTY SO Volunteers in Rolling Fork
Last Saturday, April 1, 80 teens and 20 staff members from NFTY SO Spring Kallah went to Rolling Fork, Mississippi together to volunteer in the distribution center following a devastating tornado. Our teens worked for three hours, unloading the bus with donations,...