I began my 20 years of service as a paratrooper in the IDF in 1984 and very quickly came to understand that Israel’s mandatory military service has, in large part, made our young country the global powerhouse it is today. That experience in the service of country is of immeasurable value. Learning through service is an education unlike any other.
Tikun Olam – Repairing the world is something I learned in the IDF; Israel has become a number one responder to natural disasters around the world. Teen Relief Missions (TRM) has learned from this and has been responding to natural disasters for over 15 years. We educate the teens about what it means to repair the world and what it means to be an ambassador of the Jewish people.
And like the IDF experience, it’s impossible to overemphasize the impact that TRM has on their teen volunteers as well as on the ravaged communities they serve. I still see the tearful thank you the Minnesotan brothers gave the TRM volunteers for saving their elderly father’s life. TRM teens had repaired the father’s furnace before an impending snowstorm, making it possible for him to stay in his home. When another one of our groups returned a year later, the brothers embraced them, welcoming back the “Jewish group from New Jersey.”
The sense of purpose and satisfaction teens feel when giving to others in many ways makes them the true beneficiaries of these missions. I have been awed and inspired at seeing the hearts and minds of Jewish teens transformed when given the opportunity to live Jewish values. They return infused with a sense of purpose and often take on leadership roles in their own communities. Many point to the mission experience as the reason they are teaching in Jewish schools today.
When I led the first mission to New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, I could never have imagined that over the next fifteen years we would run over 100 missions with more than 1,500 teens to places like Texas, New Orleans, and Puerto Rico and partner with stellar organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Repair The World.
Today, with the establishment of the Teen Relief Missions division, I am proud to carry on the tradition I was part of in the IDF. With this new venture, TRM will be able to expand the opportunity for more Jewish teens to help more people heal after a natural disaster.
We’re just getting started and we hope you’ll join us on this life-changing journey.
Rabbi Ethan Katz
Founder and Director of OU Relief Missions