Birthright participants fly out of storm-ridden US

Nearly half of the Taglit group came to Israel from areas in the Northeastern US, hit by the storm.

Taglit-Birthright (photo credit: Courtesy Taglit)
(photo credit: Courtesy Taglit)
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 Fuchs.
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.
“I wasn’t 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.
So close was Fuchs to the limit that he actually turns 27 during his trip, on Monday.
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 belongings.
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.
Although 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 the group.
Jonathan Baum, another 26-year-old participant, had a bird’s eye view of much of the storm from his Long Beach apartment.
“I actually 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 so fortunate.
They were both totaled, and his only had 1,400 miles on it, recalled Baum.
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 be back.”
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.
“Even though we live in Long Beach, we’ve never had this kind of flooding before,” Fuchs said. “This is the worst one in generations.”