By Roger McKinney
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Shanjida Chowdhury on Friday was proud of her work.
The 18-year-old freshman at New York University had spent the week working to restore a house at 2839 E. 18th St. destroyed in the May 22, 2011, tornado. She pointed to the tile on the floor at the entrance of the house.
“I tiled this,” she said. “I did this whole section.”
She said the Muslim and Jewish volunteers from NYU accomplished a lot since starting work on the Rebuild Joplin project on Monday. Chowdhury is Muslim.
“This floor wasn’t there” on Monday, she said. “We painted and tiled and grouted and cleaned.”
She is a volunteer with Bridges: Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue at New York University.
“It’s a bunch of us Muslim and Jewish kids working together to do good,” Chowdhury said.
She said she has been inspired by the hope and spirit she has seen in the people in Joplin.
“I’m really sore, but it’s a good kind of pain,” she said.
Also participating in the volunteer project were the Jewish Disaster Response Corps and ICNA Relief, part of the Islamic Circle of North America. They also were busy rebuilding houses at 1901 S. Illinois Ave. and in Duenweg at 1320 S. Prigmore Ave.
David O’Neill and Tim Linkeman were site supervisors for Rebuild Joplin at the Illinois Avenue house. They said the volunteers have prepared the house for the “punch list,” the final details of getting the house ready for its owners.
“It’s been an education, meeting people from different parts of the country, with different backgrounds, and seeing them come together with a common objective is an inspiration,” O’Neill said.
Linkeman said they have had good conversations with the volunteers about their backgrounds and cultures.
Zach Schwarzbaum, 19, a Jewish NYU student, said the tornado seems to have strengthened the faith of everyone in Joplin he had met who had experienced the tornado, which he said surprised him. He said he was surprised to see how quickly Joplin was rebuilding. He was at the house on 18th Street.
“This is a nice opportunity to put our differences aside,” he said. “Judaism and Islam have a lot of similarities I didn’t know about before this trip.”
Mia Applebaum, co-leader of the trip for Bridges, is a 20-year-old Jewish student at NYU. She said the project has been a powerful experience.
“I view the experience as a privilege, something very rewarding, “ she said.
“Amazing,” is how Aimee Mosseri described her time in Joplin. Mosseri, a Jew, is a 20-year-old junior at NYU. She was working at the Illinois Avenue house. She said she has really enjoyed having time to talk with the Muslim volunteers on the trip.
“We see each other not as something other,” she said. “We really get to interact in a new environment.”
She said she was looking forward to joining with fellow volunteers and local Muslims for Friday prayers, and with local Jews at sundown for Shabbat service at the United Hebrew Congregation synagogue.
Sam Cohen, 22, a Jewish student at NYU, examined a copy of the Quran with Muslim students before the prayer service at the temporary prayer hall at Pavilions West Shopping Center. Local Muslims have been meeting there for Friday prayers since their mosque was destroyed Aug. 6 in a suspicious fire.
After the service, he said it’s been powerful to work alongside Muslim students all week.
“It’s been great to see the role faith has played in the community” responding to the tornado, he said.
Mosseri said the Muslim prayer service lived up to her expectations.
“It was very interesting,” she said. “It was pretty cool. It was a new experience for me to put on a hijab.”
Mosseri and Cohen said they recognized similarities in the Muslim and Jewish worship service.
Abdur Rehman Badat, with ICNA Relief, said the project has been eye-opening for him.
“I wish other people could see it,” he said. “The stereotypes and stigma with other religions could be erased. Working together creates a bond.”
Elie Lowenfeld, founder of the JDRC, said Joplin is different from other disaster locations he has visited in that everyone felt the disaster personally.
“I have found it very personally inspiring the way people have rallied and continued to rally, while also looking forward,” He said.
Lowenfeld said he thought that was demonstrated in Cunningham Park, which includes a memorial to those who died in the tornado and a monument thanking the volunteers who have helped with recovery.
Elie Lowenfeld, founder of the Jewish Disaster Response Corps, said more volunteers from New York will return to Joplin on March 3.