Jewish College Students Volunteer For Hurricane Help

Jewish college students are spending their break doing volunteer work on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They've partnered with Westminster Preysbeterian Church to help repair storm damaged houses.

The project is not only providing some welcome assistance to hurricane victims, it also represents an important part of Jewish heritage.

Students from New York to Los Angeles spend a winter's day atop two roofs in East Biloxi. They gave up their break to help hurricane victims recover.

"They're keeping us busy. We're up by dawn and go to bed late," said student volunteer, Barry Stiefel.

Stiefel was displaced by the storm. He attended Tulane, but now goes to the University of Michigan.

"Even though I'm originally from the north, I've lived down in the south for a few years and it feels great to be able to contribute back to the community," he said.

His roofing partner is from Los Angeles and goes to school in Pennsylvania. Seeing the devastation opened her eyes. Giving up a break to help with recovery was an easy decision.

"Just responsibility to help people in need. When you have and you have your time and your labor. And anything else you can give," said Chava Cogan.

Giving is an important aspect of Jewish heritage. There's a Hebrew word, "tzedek", which means social justice; righteousness.

Michelle Lackie is with "Hillel", the group which organized the relief project.

"And what's behind it is the idea it's important to be helping other people. And there's so many things in our tradition that say you should be repairing the world, you should be helping the needy," she said.

Beth Mlynarczyk says giving is good for the heart. She and her fellow students may well leave the coast with a bigger blessing than they delivered.

"I'm glad to be able to come down here. And it's definitely different than writing a check from home. You're helping. I'm building. And I'm glad to do it," said Mlynarczyk.

Hillel is already planning a spring trip to the coast, with another 300 student volunteers.

Westminster Preysbeterian Church of Gulfport is hosting the Jewish students. The church helps feed and house the visitors, and arranges the daily work assignments.