On December 6, a group of 10th-graders from Hashmonaim and Beit Shemesh arrived in New York to help in the ongoing clean-up and fix-up efforts after Hurricane Sandy. They dubbed their impromptu trip Masa Hashemesh, or Sunshine Journey.

“Unfortunately, six weeks may seem a like a very long time after Sandy, but there are still areas that need tremendous assistance,” coordinator Stuart Katz of Hashmonaim tells us. “It’s grassroots level and dealing in some neighborhoods that weren’t so well-off to begin with.”

Katz had flown over to help for the first 10 days after the storm did its damage, and then his youngest daughter asked if she could come, too. He took her along with five of her friends, arranging for the self-funded group to demolish a ruined basement in a home in the Arverne neighborhood of Queens, New York – taking out nails from the walls, tearing down sheetrock and carrying debris to the curb – and to clean up a Long Beach condo’s backyard and driveway (“all done in the rain, incidentally.”)

They also prepared fruits and vegetables and set tables for lunch at a soup kitchen run out of a Brooklyn church. “Our purpose is to show that we help all people – regardless of faith or religion – representing Israel,” says Katz.

During their week in New York, the kids are going on about 20 speaking engagements at local schools, and livened up Hanukkah parties in Long Beach and Brighton where they met many individuals whose homes and/or synagogues were damaged by the storm.

“Homeowners were very appreciative – they couldn’t believe that the journey was put together so quickly and were astonished that kid citizens of Israel (who they feel are under attack so much) feel a need to come and help,” says Katz. “They were amazed with the work that could be accomplished by teens with a team effort.”

Some of the peers they spoke with at schools said they would now like to visit Israel – a destination that was not in their plans previously. Maybe these six high school kids have a future in diplomacy.