Student Reflections


After a very long, 14-hour drive on Saturday, we were all anxious to arrive in New Orleans. However, we had no idea what to expect. Katrina hit about three years ago, and for those of us who had never been here, the devastation that still lingers left us all in complete shock. We began our work at a building that used to be a school and has now been transformed into a center for fine arts. The artists pay the rent by teaching classes, as it is slowly renovated back to what it used to look like before Katrina struck. Just by doing simple things like painting and laying carpet, we made such a difference by the end of the week, and it felt so great to know how much we helped these artists.

We also took a tour of the lower ninth ward where the levies broke, and watched a documentary on the disaster, which really brought everything home. This town still needs so much more help, and with what we learned and experienced on this trip, I know I will be back to help, as well as share my knowledge with others and encourage them to do the same.


Being such a culturally diverse city, New Orleans has had a lot to teach all of us. We have been so fortunate to be able to experience all that the city has to offer from the great Cajun and Creole food to the arts to the nightlife.
During the day, we have been busy helping to paint and lay carpet at a school, which has been converted to a community arts center and community center in the Lower 9th Ward district. Though we aren’t rebuilding houses, I feel so good about supporting the arts and helping to restore public buildings. On New Year’s Eve day, we went to the New Orleans Children’s Museum to volunteer with kids for their New Year’s celebration. We were also able to watch an Imax documentary about hurricanes in this area.
Before this trip, I had no idea about all the devastation and tragic circumstances that had come from Hurricane Katrina. This city needs not only our hands-on help, but the knowledge we can spread and bring back home to new people is so important. I have spoken with local people in the area about their personal experiences and have had a much more personal connection to the city than I would have expected. This has been an eye-opening experience for me and I hope to carry it with me for a long time.

See Photos From New Orleans

We are always learning

We’re always learning.
New Orleans is such a unique place. It doesn’t feel like a part of the U.S. It has such a unique culture. The music is always playing. Songs of a love that is so strong the people can’t stop this passion for this place. A pride exists that unites the community.
The internet won’t connect even though I was promised free access. There are only 2 thin, small towels in the room. The water is not running with a strong force. People are living on the streets on every block. Buildings are being renovated everywhere. The music plays on. The hearts of the people beat hard. And they welcome us with a warmth and gratitude. “Thanks for coming to visit, to work”.
I only stopped at New Orleans to be able to share a small part of the trip with the 24 students who went there to help rebuild. On my way to Taglit-Birthright Israel I wanted to spend New Years with my husband who was staffing the trip. As always, the students taught me so much. They told their stories of their first 4 ½ days. Through their words I heard how they stepped out of their comfort zone to rip up floor boards, strip floors, paint walls. Their pride and effort showed through the spoken word. They spoke to the people; whispering first, voices getting louder and louder……………Were you here when Katrina came? What have you seen?
Tonight the students saved their leftover food and gave it to the homeless. They didn’t do that the first day. Today they grew and stretched and embraced their experience. We all shared something that will forever change us for the better.
The Garden district contrasts the distraught buildings we are working on. Slick and clean with new paint, crisp lines with sculptured gardens…. In contrast to chipped and fragile walls, wires revealing the guts of the buildings, bleeding with pain, and containing stories never told.
Life is fragile. Time goes fast. We are all part of precious communities. I hold close the incredible sacrifice and decision the students made to come here and work during their break. Thank you, Julianna, for all your work and organizing.
We are always learning.
With appreciation and love, Sue

Last night in Israel

It has been our honor to be a part of your children’s (and friend’s) first experience in Israel. This trip has certainly changed their lives and, as this was the beginning of a personal journey for them, we can’t wait to see where it leads.

Maxine and Dana

Shalom everyone!!

With only one day left of traveling around this beautiful and historical land, I can honestly say this has been the most amazing experience of my life. I know all of you at home are probably wondering what is going on over here so let me just set the scene for you for a second. For the past 9 days, 48 of us have been traveling around on a tour bus..from 7 am to late hours of the night. We are all together constantly and I am so thankful to have made so many best friends on this trip that I will be able to carry on relationships with even after we leave Israel. We have visited the most amazing sites I have ever seen and I am sure that all of your sons and daughters will have a million pictures to show you upon their return ( Don’t worry ma, you know I do). I have two experiences that I feel for me stand out above the others. First, the feelings that I felt upson visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem. It was an unbelieveable feeling being there, knowing that so many of our ancestors had been there. The emotions that I felt during the duration of our visit were unlike anything I could have imagined. The second was our swim in the Dead Sea. While I have never been so cut up from swimming in a pool of water before, the feeling of lying back and having no control over your body floating was unbelievable. Oh, yeah, and the mud wrestling was cool too (haha). Anyways, just a short briefing of my experience. There is simply just too much to tell but I must go for now. Only 2 more days until you get to see us again! It is getting close, no worries☺

Lots of love,
Jen Libbares
Virginia Tech ‘10

In the midst of the NFL playoffs, the VT Chokies upstting loss to the putrid Jayhawks, the stresses of a new semester at school and the new year being rung in, stepping off the airplane on January 4th and leaving all that behind was easier than I thought. The fact that we don’t even know the day or even the time of day back in the States might have something to do with it, but the sights, sounds, smells and everything else in the land of Israel is surreal. With all the craziness in the world today, specifically the Middle East, I never thought I would make the journey, but this was the year that my darling mother’s nagging and persistence finally paid off and she was able to persuade me to go and I’m so glad she did. There are so many amazing places that we have visited and sights that have touched us all.
This trip has not only allowed me to make 46 new jewish friends, but the amazing feelings and emotions associated with the sites and lectures have made me think twice about a lot of the things I take for granted and the life I live in the good old US of A.
I love to travel and it is something I plan on continuing the rest of my life. In one year I have visited the highest elevation on earth (Mt. Kileakahaahhaha or something of that sort), and now I can add the lowest place on earth to that. The only difference is that Israel feels more like home for some odd reason. Maybe because everybody here is Jewish and has a spicy haircut with curly hair, but the overall feeling all over the country makes me think some crazy thoughts I have never thought before. I have enjoyed my nine or ten days here, whatever it has been so far, and it is not because our TV’s only two channels are in Hebrew and I can’t watch MTV or sports, it is because this place has an aura surrounding it that touches everyone that visits it, even a bunch of college kids from all around the lovely state of Virginia. There’s a lot more that I would love to add now but I’m gonna go run and try and catch the Chargers game. I’m sure you all will hear it from my mom anyways, because we all know she LOVES to talk.

Post Script:
Thanks to all the parents for allowing their little hooligans to make this journey and to all the Jews of the 20th centrury that made this trip possible. It is one experience I will never forgot. L’Hitraot and see you soon!

Zak A. Kurtz
Roanoke College ‘07 and Boston U ‘07

and now for some pictures…

Ben Mills and Craig Luxenberg enjoying a camel ride in the Negev
the group at Independence Hall
the group on an army tank at the Armed Forces Memorial
Josh Rubin, Maxine Squires, Ben Mihal, Dave Starler, and Mike Ross at the MegaEvent, where we celebrated the fact that we were in Israel with thousands of other Jews from all over the world, all visiting here for the first time