The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 21, 2013

Jewish, Muslim volunteers join together on Rebuild Joplin projects

By Roger McKinney

JOPLIN, Mo. — Disasters knock down buildings.

They also knock down barriers between people.

Elie Lowenfeld, founder of the Jewish Disaster Response Corps, said that is a key principle of his organization, one of three groups of Jews and Muslims from New York working together this week on projects with Rebuild Joplin. The others are Bridges: Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue at New York University, and ICNA Relief, part of the Islamic Circle of North America.

“You see it everywhere there’s a disaster,” Lowenfeld said of neighbors helping their neighbors regardless of background. “You see the community join together to overcome adversity.”

The groups are working on homes in Joplin at 2839 E. 18th St. and 1901 S. Illinois Ave., and in Duenweg at 1320 S. Prigmore Ave. The home on 18th Street was Rebuild Joplin’s 24-hour build project.

The volunteers were bundled up on Monday as they endured below-freezing temperatures while they worked to build or restore houses to replace those destroyed in the May 22, 2011, tornado.

Lowenfeld said the first time the JDRC worked with ICNA Relief, volunteers stayed together in a church, and he thought how unique the situation was. He then thought that it shouldn’t be unique.

“It should be the norm,” he said.

Mia Applebaum is a 20-year-old sophomore at NYU and co-leader of the trip with the Bridges group. Her first volunteer trip with Bridges was last year to Birmingham, Ala.

“This trip is a fantastic opportunity to fully experience what Bridges offers,” she said.

She said the project is rewarding in many ways.

“I not only feel I’m helping the people of Joplin, I’m becoming a more worldly, open-minded individual,” Applebaum said.

Ali Ali, the treasurer for Bridges, said the idea behind working together on disaster relief is to create connections.

“The goal of our club is to build connections that aren’t there in other parts of the world,” said Ali, who is Muslim. “It ties people together.”

Adina Remz, volunteer coordinator for the JDRC, said she had been in touch with Rebuild Joplin and others in Joplin including tornado survivors in the weeks leading up to the trip. She said the people in Joplin have been very welcoming.

“It’s just been really meaningful work,” Remz said. “It’s physical labor, and it’s an incredible bonding experience.”

She said some of those with whom she has visited told her they had never met Jews before.

“I hope this will build long-lasting friendships,” Remz said.

She plans to return to Joplin during spring break with members of Hillel, another Jewish university student organization.

Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, with Bridges and executive director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, said Bridges encourages students to pursue their ideas for volunteer and interfaith projects, even after they graduate.

King Day of Service

THE JEWISH AND MUSLIM VOLUNTEERS on Monday also were participating in the Day of Service designated to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.