Most people who visit New Orleans don’t just visit once. Visitors tend to return often, enchanted by the city’s unique culture, food and music. Ethan Katz returns for a different reason.
NCSY is an international organization focused on service experiences for Jewish youth. When Ethan, NCSY’s National Director of Relief Missions, first came to New Orleans with the organization, it was six months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Since then, he—along with about 20 teenagers and a handful of staff—has come to volunteer up to eight times per year.
“And it’s only going to increase from here,” said Ethan.
Thus, a partnership was born that Ethan believes will last a very long time. While building houses and restoring a sense of community is necessary work, Ethan said the primary goal of NCSY is to educate the teens in the organization. NCSY’s mission is to help Jewish teens lead more purposeful and meaningful lives.
“Most of these teens grew up in a bubble,” said Ethan. “[They] never see poverty, never understand there’s a world outside their little community that actually exists.”
Ethan encourages the teens to think about what they have compared to what others might not, giving them a sense of what it really means to be a volunteer.
“We talk about social justice and the Jewish path to social justice,’” said Ethan. “The first part is becoming aware that it exists.”
From laying floorboards to raising walls to moving soil, Ethan and the NCSY have done it all. But two experiences stand out to him: The first was on their first visit after Hurricane Katrina. He said the teens were so motivated to finish their work that when it started raining, they refused to stop.
The second was about two years ago. The group was digging out a driveway that would not budge. It started to rain, and the teens told Ethan that God had answered their prayers because they could finish the job since the ground was now soft. They finished the job that day, but still spoke about it three months later. These experiences have inspired Ethan to keep coming back.
“We’re regulars,” said Ethan. “The beauty of being a regular at Habitat is that you don’t know what you’re going to get. Volunteer work is not about what we want to do; it’s about what the community needs.”