NFTY-SO Takes Action in Rolling Fork, MS
On Shabbat, Friday March 24, a man returned home from his community’s synagogue in prayer, only to end his Shabbat without the town that stood when he first lit the candles due to the wrath of mother nature’s powerful tornado. This man is the former mayor of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, and met with 80 reform Jewish teens from throughout the south who traveled to Rolling Fork to spend their weekend-long event in doing acts of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.
Continue reading the story of these teens who transformed their weekend into one of the most powerful social action opportunities we have seen in a long time. Thank you, NFTY Southern, for representing the Reform Jewish Youth Movement proudly and providing your love and community to those for whom it may be lacking.
Simon Warner (NFTY North American Religious & Cultural Vice President)
On Friday, March 31, 80 teens came together for NFTY SO Spring Kallah. The Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, which translates to repairing the world, emphasizes the importance of social responsibility and taking action to improve the lives of others. On Wednesday night before the event, our board learned from the Jacobs Camp team that an opportunity to help came up and held an emergency meeting where we decided to pivot and spend Saturday working in Rolling Fork in the distribution center. With a little under two days’ notice, our community got a ton of supplies that Rolling Fork desperately needed. On Saturday morning, it was amazing to see all of my fellow NFTYites get up early to eat breakfast, load two charter buses worth of supplies and get right on the bus to help.
On Saturday morning, NFTY-Southern took a one-hour drive to Rolling Fork, MS. Rolling Fork is a city of about 1,800 people, and it is only about 1 square mile long. A tornado hit the town a week before our event, leaving the infrastructure severely damaged and much of the community in disarray. The NFTY-Southern board knew we needed to take action, so at the last minute we adjusted our schedule so that we could help. 80 teens spent the morning at a distribution center, helping to organize and distribute items. NFTY-Southern also collected hundreds of donations that we personally handed out to the people of Rolling Fork. Sharkey County, where Rolling Fork is located, is one of the poorest counties in Mississippi and the nation, with almost 40% under the poverty line.
When we arrived at the distribution center and unloaded everything, we met Fred Miller, a former mayor of Rolling Fork and uncle to one of our NFTY participants. Miller, who is Jewish, shared about the important Jewish history in the Mississippi Delta and how awful the storm was in his community. Miller told us how he and his wife crammed into their bathroom when the tornado came and how the noise is like nothing he had ever heard before – Miller compared the destruction in the town to images we have seen on the news covering warzones and later on that day we drove past it.
As soon as we finished hearing from Fred, we got to work. It was amazing how all 80 teens and 20 advisors immediately jumped onto different jobs getting everything done. Teens unloaded and organized donations in the distribution center, loaded vehicles with essential items and broke down boxes. Time flew by and after 3 hours of work, we ate lunch and debriefed the morning. That is when we all got to hear from Fred’s daughter about how not only were we the largest groups to come help so far but we helped them from falling behind. The other volunteers at Rolling Fork were incredibly nice and helped make sure everyone was informed. It was an amazing experience that I know all of our teens will forever remember.
Our region made a tremendous impact on people’s lives and helped the city recover. Chances to make a direct and hands-on difference don’t come around often, so I’m very proud of the initiative our region took to help. Not only did the NFTY-SO teens jump on the opportunity to help their community, but they also did so with great energy and a positive attitude. I could not be more proud of the work NFTY-Southern did and the difference we made. This project left a lasting impact on every NFTY-Southern teen that will stay with them forever. I am so proud of our NFTY teens as they worked hard all morning and showed maturity. We did not stand idly by when our neighbors were suffering and it was an honor to be part of the recovery efforts.