MOORE, Okla. – Eight months after a devastating tornado struck neighborhoods here in Moore, the rebuilding effort continues as better, stronger homes are constructed by private companies and groups like Habitat for Humanity.
In addition, service-oriented groups have been flooding into Moore over these many months to offer their assistance and a little sweat, swinging hammers, pounding nails and painting walls.
On Wednesday, Red Dirt Report found itself on Kings Manor Drive, behind the Warren Theatre, which is essentially ground zero for the May 20th tornado. On the outside of the house, college students were steadily working on the under-construction home of Louis and Cindy Henderson.
The college students, many from New York University, were in Moore as part of an interfaith co-effort involving the NYU student group Bridges: Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue and the Jewish Disaster Response Corps.
Adina Remz, executive director of JDRC – a New York-based Jewish faith-based group which was founded in 2009 by NYU’s Elie Lowenfeld – explained that the organization seeks to assist in the aftermath of domestic disasters while exhibiting Jewish values and a commitment to help others.
Remz said JDRC has had a presence since early January and she came out to Oklahoma following last year’s tornado outbreak in El Reno.
And so this month and again in March, the JDRC, Remz explained, will be bringing in students from 12 different universities – 20-30 students for a week at a time – to work on houses in Moore, partnering with Habitat for Humanity while staying with the Jewish Hillel organization at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
“We try to be part of the community,” Remz said.
Remz said JDRC has helped in the aftermath of disasters including Hurricane Sandy, the tornado in Joplin, Mo., the tornado in Birmingham, Ala., and a natural disaster in Galveston, Texas.
Regarding the devastation she witnessed in central Oklahoma, Remz said, noting JRDC’s volunteer efforts in Shawnee, Little Axe, Newalla and elsewhere, it was unlike anything she’d seen before.
And specifically here in Moore, Remz said she is inspired at seeing people “coming back” and building again.
Saad Khan, a Delaware native and president of NYU”s Muslim Bridges group, which works on engaging in interfaith dialogue and working alongside their Jewish brothers and sisters, while learning more about one another.
“The whole idea is to get to know each other and work in coexistence with each other,” Khan said, adding that he has helped in rebuilding efforts in Joplin and Birmingham.
And Adam Soltani, the executive director of the Oklahoma Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK) was also on hand to help out at the bustling work site.
“One of the goals of faith is to bring people together regardless of their differences to do good in society. The NYU Jewish-Muslim Bridges students have shown Oklahomans they can do just that all the while helping rebuild our state and improve the quality of life for Moore residents,” Soltani said.
Students, meanwhile, have been coming in from the University of Rhode Island, San Francisco State University, the University of Maryland, and other places of higher learning.
As for this house on Kings Manor, homeowner Cindy Henderson explained that she and her husband narrowly escaped death when the tornado roared through their neighborhood. They went into a neighbor’s shelter and as the tornado came over the shelter it felt like a “large blender.”
And while they lost most of their material possessions, Henderson said she is grateful for all the help she and her husband have received in the aftermath of the May 20th tornado, not only including high school and college students from far-flung locales, but even celebrities including late-night talk show host and comedian David Letterman.
When asked what advice she would give to people who have lost their home and possessions in a natural disaster, Henderson said material things can be replaced. Having your life literally turned upside-down by a tornado makes you think about what’s really important, she said.
“They need to thank their maker that they are alive,” Henderson said. “He will bless them and help them. And I’ve learned that there are always people who are willing to help.”