By Robyn Wittenberg Dudley, Member of Summerville/North Area Jewish Community
I have been reflecting on the definition of Tikkun Olam. We all know that it means to repair the world and I jokingly say that saving the world is sometimes exhausting but exhilarating. For the past 10 days, the three travelers on the kosher caravan, Kay Vierra, Robyn Wittenberg Dudley and John Kauth, have worked hard to make the world a better place for some victims of the hurricane Irma down in South Florida.
We didn’t do it alone though. With very little planning time, the Charleston Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Services identified a family in need at the Broward County FL Goodman Jewish Family Services and we all got to work to gather supplies to go in the two cars going down to Plantation Florida. A Saturn Car was donated by John Kauth in memory of his late wife Donna, many boxes and bags of paper supplies and kosher and non kosher food were dropped off at the Charleston Jewish Family Services as well as the Community Resource Center in Summerville. Crews Chevrolet serviced the car and made sure it was in good condition for the donor recipient. Staples, where John works, donated lots of paper supplies. Publix donated a gift card. Jenna from the Summerville Journal Scene wrote a nice article. Stetson Miller from Channel 2 News came to Summerville to video a broadcast. Judy Hinman from Charleston Jewish Family Services accumulated so many wonderful donated supplies for the trip. Patrick and Victoria Labbe from Summerville went on a buying trip to donate items along with so many others. Thank you to all of you.
It was rather serendipitous that we left on October 2 ,which would have been Robyn's late husband's 71st birthday and that John Kauth was donating his car in memory of his late wife Donna. Things seem to happen for a reason.
So 7:30 am Monday morning October 2, after taking care of all of their fur babies, John Kay and Robyn left the Summerville Staples parking lot with signs on the cars specifying that vehicles they were in were the Kosher Karavan.
After getting lost in Walterboro approaching I-95 south, we stopped for the proverbial McDonald's breakfast before getting on the interstate. We had a grand time listening to music down to the Florida border where we stopped, drank some orange juice and ruby red grapefruit juice and had some nice conversations with people heading back home after evacuating when Hurricane Irma came through. It was pretty heart wrenching to hear a couple talking about their home near Key West and not knowing what kind of shape it was going to be when they get home.
We joked about finding a place to get some Krystal hamburgers and we stopped and got a sackful. John said they were almost as good as the White Castles he had been used to eating in New York. This was not destined to be a healthy trip food wise!
As we drove down on 95 south especially past Daytona beach, we began to see the devastation of the hurricane. We saw water standing very high. We saw palm trees bent over and some toppled. Some of the road signs were down and we saw billboards that had been destroyed.
Finally, 10 hours after leaving Charleston and stopping too many times, we arrived in Plantation Florida in Broward County and decided to get some Thai food before going to Jacob Schreiber's house who was hosting us. We did not eat at the Hookah Bar that was in the same shopping center as the Thai restaurant. Thank you to the Goodman Jewish Family Services for arranging for our overnight housing.
Tuesday morning we woke up to morning light and to seeing the downed trees and the damage that the Schreiber's had experienced at their house as well as the other houses in the neighborhood. There were so many piles of branches and other debris that had not yet been picked up because there are just not enough resources in the area to keep up with the damage.
We then embarked in our cars for The Cupboard, the newly opened food bank for Goodman Jewish Family Services. Stephanie and Renni met us there where we unloaded two car loads of supplies. Stephanie gave us an awesome tour of the new facility which is called a choice kosher food pantry and it was amazing how organized and stocked the shelves were thanks to the generosity of local merchants and others. Broward County has over 150,000 Jewish residents including many Holocaust survivors. The Cupboard really does not turn anyone away and refers to whatever source the person in need requires.
The high point of the trip came when we drove over to the broker that handles the title transfers and met the new owner of the car that John donated. The family was so appreciative and it gave real meaning to the trip.
We then turned around and headed back for Summerville, South Carolina but not without a stop to look at the beautiful ocean along the Miami coast. Even though it was sprinkling rain, we got out of the car and went to the beach where Kay proudly picked up a stray coconut that had fallen from a tree.
Our trusty GPS then led us back to I 95 north where we sat in ridiculous traffic making our way through Broward County. It seemed to take us forever and then some before we ended up at another Krystal where John ruined his hamburgers by putting ketchup on them.
We arrived back in Summerville around 10 pm but not before Kay and Robyn bought cowboy hats at a rest stop to wear when they are line dancing. So, our good deed is done for now. But Tikkun Olam is an ongoing responsibility so we will rest a moment before looking for our next cause.
Watch Robyn Wittenberg Dudley, John Kauth and Sara Chesley on the Channel 2 News talk about the cat and supplies that hte Jewish community gathered to donate to Irma victims >>