Just days after torrential rains and winds senselessly battered his childhood
home, Andrew Fuchs reluctantly climbed aboard a plane on Thursday for his first
trip to Israel.
“We [were] flooded out like everyone else – we lost our
basement, [and] the first floor of the house,” Fuchs said of his family’s home
in Long Beach, New York.
Unable to return to their home for the next few
months at least, his parents have moved – with Fuchs ailing grandfather, a
medical aid and their three dogs – into Fuchs’s apartment in the Middle Village
neighborhood of Queens.
While not perfect – his apartment lost power,
half of its roof and one closet – the conditions are livable, according to
Given that his grandmother died recently and his grandfather
suffers from Alzheimer’s, Fuchs described recent events as “going from one
disaster to another.”
Arriving at the airport for his Taglit-Birthright
Israel trip a few days ago was therefore no easy decision.
going to come, but my mom kind of pressured me,” Fuchs told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday. “She said, ‘You’re 26 turning 27 so you’re not going to have another
opportunity.’” The cutoff age for Birthright Israel trips, the free 10-day trips
for young Jews to Israel, is prior to a participant’s 27th birthday.
close was Fuchs to the limit that he actually turns 27 during his trip, on
As an attorney working all hours of the day, he just never had
the time before, he said.
Fuchs is not the only one on his trip who decided to come on the Birthright trip despite a ravaged home, or
In fact, nearly half of the 30-some-odd member group – led by
trip provider Sachlav: Israel on the House – came from areas in the Northeastern
US, hit by the storm, said trip counselor Guy Seemann.
originally from the US, Seemann lives in Israel and led the Israeli delegation
to Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake there.
None of the participants
canceled their participation in trip for storm-related reasons, and Seemann went
so far as to drive from New York City to Philadelphia to pick up a young woman
who would not have otherwise been able to join. Attempting to reach John F.
Kennedy Airport in New York from San Francisco, to join the rest of the group,
the closest the participant could get was a flight to Philadelphia on Wednesday
– through Phoenix, according to Seemann.
“I just drove there,” he
said. “The roads were empty.”
To Seemann, who has been a counselor
on five Birthright trips now, making his participants feel at home and
comfortable was his most important goal.
“It wasn’t even a second
thought,” he said.
This November trip – along with a few others – is an
extension of the summer Birthright season, said Gadi Dahan, the tour guide for
Jonathan Baum, another 26-year-old participant, had a bird’s
eye view of much of the storm from his Long Beach apartment.
watched the whole thing happen,” he said, noting that luckily his apartment is 7
meters above the ground.
Baum’s car, as well as his girlfriend’s, was not
They were both totaled, and his only had 1,400 miles on it,
The basement of his nowpowerless building is filled with
about 2 cubic meters of water, and his landlord has waived the tenants’ rent
fees for this month, he said.
For Baum, going to Israel is helping “ease
the pain” of the storm, and he is excited to be finally seeing the place many of
his relatives hail from.
“This place is really beautiful,” he said. “I’ll
Fuchs too is pleased with his decision to leave behind the
damage, if only temporarily, to enjoy his time in Israel.
“It’s a modern
place, but with such a ridiculous amount of history,” Fuchs said. “It’s been
really eye opening.”
With no regrets, he will continue on the trip for
the next week and then return home, where for two or three months his parents,
grandfather and three dogs will be his new roommates in Queens.
though we live in Long Beach, we’ve never had this kind of flooding before,”
Fuchs said. “This is the worst one in generations.”