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A working vacation

Self-proclaimed ‘Jew Crew’ helps rebuild Houston

Natasha Tsaryuk shows a photo of the house that she and her group rebuilt during a rebuilding mission to Houston to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey. (Spenser Hasak)

BOSTON — Natasha Tsaryuk could have spent her February school vacation lounging, skiing, or going to the movies with friends.

Instead the 16-year-old Swampscott High School student spent the week in Houston helping to rebuild a home damaged by Hurricane Harvey. The storm dumped 60 inches of rain in some parts of Texas last summer and was responsible for 68 deaths and an estimated $125 billion in damage.

Tsaryuk was not alone. She and 40 teenagers from the Chabad of the North Shore Temple learned a new set of skills to assist four families repair their homes.

“We called ourselves the Jew Crew,” she said. “I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to help someone and I did just that and it felt really good.”

Like many of the teens, Tsaryuk lacked do-it-yourself skills. But group leaders trained them and off to work they went, she said. Within hours she was installing floors, windows, doors and trim, with the use of miter and jig saws.

Michelle Marder, a 15-year-old Lynnfield High School student, said she joined the mission as a way to give back.

“It’s really rewarding to help someone,” she said. “It was frustrating cutting pieces of wood and getting then to fit, but we got help and it worked.”

Victor Kratik, 17, from Swampscott, said it was important for him to show Houston some love six months after Hurricane Harvey hit.

“I wanted to show Houston we haven’t forgotten about the devastating impact of the storm,” he said. “My skills were limited, but my dad is an engineer and he prepared me.”

Newburyport resident Ava Grady, 16, said there’s not much of a Jewish teen community where she lives and the trip was a way to hang with other Jewish teens and do good.

“I had never been to Texas and I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “It was an eye-opening experience.”

Lila Caplan, a student at Academy Penguin Hall Girls Preparatory High School in Wenham, was an experienced do-it-yourselfer. The 15-year-old Swampscott resident had been to New Orleans last year to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

“I’m not the most handy person,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever changed a lightbulb in my house, but I learned by trial and error. Painting was my thing and by the end of each day I was covered head to toe in paint.”

Jarren Diaz, a 17-year-old Winthrop High School student, said when he saw what happened in Houston, he wanted to help.

“Everyone there was so nice and welcoming, even strangers,” he said.

Rabbi Shmaya Friedman 31, who helped organize the trip, said the mission of the effort was simple. He called it “One Mitzvah,” which means good deed.

“Our tagline is, ‘one mitzvah leads to another,’ and it happened on this trip,” he said. “One of the homeless homeowners had four foster children who had to stay at four different foster homes. But now that their home is done, those four homes can take in four new children. That’s the kind of ripple effect we hoped to see.”

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