Two LA High School Students Reflect on Kest Family Scholars NCSY Trip to New Orleans

On February 2, 18 Jewish high schoolers who attend public school in Los Angeles flew to New Orleans, Louisiana, as part of NCSY’s Kest Family Scholars group for a five-day adventure.
March 3, 2022

Hello to everyone reading this page in the magazine! My name is Grace Boaziz, and I wanted to share a snippet from my life about this chessed trip I had the chance to go on this past week.

On February 2, 18 Jewish high schoolers who attend public school in Los Angeles flew to New Orleans, Louisiana, as part of NCSY’s Kest Family Scholars group for a five-day adventure. We did not know what to expect. On the first day, we helped to demolish the home of Amy and Larry, which had been destroyed by hurricane Ida. We were with Nechama and AmeriCorps NCCC and they taught us how to do each task. On the second day, Friday, we went to a farm and worked with Joshua from Common Grounds. We worked all morning in the swamps planting trees and learning about the Louisiana ecosystem. I also had a chance to talk with Joshua, and I learned why he does what he does, and where he came from.

Since we are a Jewish Orthodox group, we went back to the hotel early for Shabbas. We got ready and waited to greet Shabbat with songs, stories, food and games. On Shabbat, we played many Mafia games and learned about different topics. One of the topics was “What does love mean to you, and do you believe you can be truly in love.” On our last day, we returned to the site of Amy and Larry’s home, pulled their house down to the ground, and completed some final tasks before our flight back home.

This trip really touched me. I learned more about myself and the people around me. I took away multiple things that will stay with me forever. Joshua taught me that “photos have more meaning than video.” Something the rabbis and advisers demonstrated during this trip was how to always do Kiddush Hashem. That can accomplished by giving someone a compliment or volunteering your time at a soup kitchen. In short, this whole trip was a journey adventure, something I would absolutely do again. Also thank you to the Kest Family for making this trip possible and giving us this opportunity.

— Grace Boaziz

“Chessed” is a Hebrew word that means kindness or love between people. Recently, I spent five days in New Orleans on an LA NCSY Relief Mission trip. This mission was part of the Lauren and Ezra Kest family scholars program. We were a group of eighteen public high school students from all around Los Angeles County who wanted to take part in acts of chesed. We all met at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on a Wednesday afternoon and together we flew to New Orleans.

The first day we were there, we went to a home that was destroyed by Hurricane Ida. The cost of machinery and labor to tear down the home is high. So, as a group, we demolished the house and helped the homeowners, Amy and Larry, tremendously. Before we began breaking down the house, we were tasked with removing all the valuables that the homeowner wanted to keep. As I was picking up their items, I stumbled across several photos. The photos were senior pictures of the homeowners’ children. As a high school senior myself, I felt a connection to these photographs, as entering the last year of high school was an important milestone in my life. When I noticed these photos lying in the debris, I realized how blessed I am to have a home that I can live in.

After we demolished the house, we came back on the last day of our trip to pull the rest of the house down. On the day we went back, I had the chance to meet the homeowners, Amy and Larry. I had never met people who were as appreciative as they were. They were grateful that we helped them with a task that would have cost them thousands of dollars. Although we spent our entire day breaking down a house, after hearing the appreciation from Amy and Larry, I knew that what we had done was worth it.

Ever since I walked into Amy and Larry’s previous home, I have been constantly thanking Hashem for everything. Whenever I am enjoying life, I am thanking Hashem for giving me a moment to breathe. I am also thanking Hashem when my life is not so good. I thank him for placing me in a situation that I will eventually grow and learn from.

On our first day in New Orleans, after we had destroyed the house, we visited a Jewish cemetery. It was my first time visiting a cemetery and it was very emotional. After taking some time to pay our respects, we went to the end of the cemetery and saw a special tomb. In the ground there were 3000 holy books that had been destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. We all sat around the grave and were led through meditation by one of our rabbis, Oran. The meditation allowed us to really connect with where we were and our heritage.

As a group, we also spent a Shabbat together in New Orleans. We were faced with many challenges, including not being able to carry food from our hotel rooms down to the conference room. We had to get creative and find ways to make our Shabbat happen. The challenges made the Shabbat special because everyone was working together to honor Shabbat.

I will be forever grateful to the Kest family, who made this trip a reality. The trip has allowed me to realize everything I should be grateful for. When you do acts of chesed, you will not only impact the people around you but you will affect yourself. The acts will inspire you in a positive way and allow you to gain a new perspective on life. As Jews, it is important that we act as the light in our world and do whatever it takes to make our world a better place.

— Norah Kerendian
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