Holiday cheer for Katrina Victims
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Holiday cheer for Katrina Victims

This weekend, Young Judaea professionals plan to take two ‘4-foot-long trucks, crammed with new toys, books, and non-perishable food, to Jackson, Miss. They’ll distribute the goodies through the United Way, hoping to brighten the holiday season for Katrina victims.

Caravan 4 Katrina has been in the works since shortly after the hurricane struck at the end of August. YJ staff presented the idea to the leaders of its northeast region at a training event during which they boxed up more immediately neccesary supplies to send south. And "we were all really receptive to it," said Zach Zamechansky of Dumont, administrative vice-president of YJ’s New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania region. The foresight runs counter to the usually short American attention span, even for disasters. "We all knew that at this point they would still need stuff, but they wouldn’t be getting it."

The southeast YJ region has been consulted throughout the project’s planning and is now sending buses to the afflicted region, too.

Zamechansky, co-president of the youth group at Temple Sholom in River Edge, has a personal connection to the realities of Katrina’s destruction. This summer, while in Israel on YJ’s Machon program for kids entering 1’th grade, he became friends with a young woman from Mississippi. She has finally had the electricity restored to her home, but she’s still living in a hotel, he said.

Both buses will leave for Mississippi from Philadelphia, after making stops at several YJ-sponsored events along the way. One bus will start out in Waltham, Mass., the other at Temple Sholom. Beginning at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, teens from northern NJ plan to spend a couple of hours packing up the supplies, before a dance at the synagogue in a room decorated with a Mardi Gras theme.

The project is also sponsored by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and coordinated by its Jewish Community Relations Council. Ruth Siev, JCRC project coordinator, said it’s a "kickoff" to Sunday’s community-wide UJA-NNJ Mitzvah Day.

"It’s sort of the perfect shidduch," said Rachel Baum, YJ supervisor for this area.

YJ is Hadassah’s youth movement, and several Hadassah chapters are providing support, Baum said, adding that national Hadassah is filming the project for a documentary. Northern NJ Hadassah president Debby Mazon is expected to speak at the event, as are Englewood mayor Michael Wildes and Rabbi Ely Allen, UJA-NNJ director of campus youth services and teen connections.

Other local sponsors include Hillel, the Bergen Academy of Reform Judaism, the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies, Schechter Regional High School, and several synagogues.

To donate supplies to Caravan 4 Katrina or to participate in Mitzvah Day, contact Alice Blass at (’01) 488-6800, ext. ’09, or aliceb@ujannj.org.

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