December 17, 2012
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Mitzvah Monday: Help from Hashmonaim

for The Brooklyn Paper

A week after super storm Sandy struck the northeast, 49-year-old Stuart Katz left his home in Israel to help New Yorkers. He brought Dunkin’ Donuts to road workers, organized large racks of clothing at a donation center, and aided carless citizens on election day by shuttling them to their precincts so they could vote. Yet, when war broke out in Israel shortly after his arrival, Katz returned to his family in Hashmonaim — a settlement in the West Bank — and it was in the comfort of his home that he realized the discomfort of Sandy victims who were still without a home of their own. Katz decided to return to New York — despite his own country’s problems — with his daughter, Dafna, a 15-year-old in 10th grade.

Soon after, Dafna convinced five of her Israeli classmates to come along with them to New York during their Chanukah vacation to participate in one mighty mitzvah. The group would participate in relief efforts and help Americans understand the social and political plight of Israel.

The group, who called themselves Masa Hashemesh (which means “following the sun”) arrived in the U.S. on Dec. 6 and worked tirelessly from 7 am to 11 pm for seven days straight, hopping from borough to borough looking for anyone in need. In Queens, for instance, they completely emptied and demolished someone’s basement; on a rainy day in Long Beach, they cleared debris from a condominium’s backyard; and in Brooklyn, they prepped food for victims at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

The group also visited more than 20 public schools to talk about the differences between life in Israel and America, which Katz claimed was the most rewarding part of their trip. It was at these visits that Israelis and American teens realized their cultural differences. Though they were the same age, American teens were concerned about SAT scores and college preparation while Israelis spoke about having to enroll in the army after high school and having pride in their country. Katz also claimed that the Israeli students were surprised by how little the Americans knew of life in Israel — some students asked whether Israelis lived in tents and rode camels to school. Yet, despite the students’ cultural differences, there was a general consensus that they were all human, susceptible to trauma, and worthy of kindness.

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