Squirrel Hill father-daughter to spend Rosh Hashana doing tikkun olam in Haiti
Fred Landay and his 15-year-old daughter Taylor won’t be spending the first day of Rosh Hashana in a synagogue this year, but they will be performing an act of tikkun olam.
Just days prior to the High Holidays next week, Landay and Taylor will be on a plane to Haiti, delivering much needed supplies to an orphanage in the coastal town of Montrouis.
In addition to delivering the supplies and visiting the children at the nearby Eden Garden Orphanage, the father-daughter duo from Squirrel Hill will help rebuild a bridge leading to the orphanage that was destroyed by Hurricane Ike. While there, they will stay on the grounds of the orphanage.
Haiti, a tiny country on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola bordering the Dominican Republic, is one of the most poverty-stricken and crime-ridden countries in the Western hemisphere. Due to widespread deforestation there, its French- and Creole-speaking people are especially vulnerable to the ravages from hurricanes and tropical storms.
Landay first heard about this orphanage through a friend who had done some volunteer work there in the past. Intrigued, he requested additional information, and learned that the orphanage had been rat infested until it was taken over in 1998 by Charles and Gigi Le-Morzellec, a French couple living in Virginia, who moved the orphanage to a facility by the sea. His friend told him that the only way to cross customs was to pay money to the border officials, and that the orphanage, which houses about 40 children, was in need of volunteers to transport relief supplies for the children.
Landay was hooked.
“I’m sure there are a lot of places in the world that can use the service, but it (Haiti) is the poorest nation in the world.”
The Le-Morzellecs will provide Landay and Taylor with an interpreter and bodyguards while in Haiti.
Their first goal upon landing in the capital city of Port-au-Prince will be to leave that city immediately due to the high risk of Americans being kidnapped.
With the help of the National Council of Jewish Women, which has arranged a drop-off center for donated items, Landay and Taylor are requesting basic necessities, such as soap, diapers, toothpaste, shampoo, shoes and towels. School supplies, such as pencils, paper, rulers and chalk, are also in great demand because the orphanage lost all of these things in the storms.
“NCJW has often in the past been seen as the ‘go-to’ agency in town, and we enjoy that reputation,” said Susan Nitzberg, president of the NCJW, Pittsburgh section. “Most importantly, if we can help out in a humanitarian effort for those who are less fortunate, and in this case probably incredibly less fortunate than us, then we are very happy to help.”
All donated items should be brought to the Anathan House at 1620 Murray Ave., between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The drop-off center will be open even after the Landays return, as arrangements will be made for donations to be sent to the
The Landays plan to take the maximum load allowable on the plane — two duffel bags weighing 50 pounds each. While he has received monetary donations, he is not asking for funding from the community at this point until he actually visits Haiti and sees what is
Landay said he is looking forward to sharing this experience with his daughter. He already plans to return to Haiti for a medical mission in the near future.
“They are the forgotten children of the world,” he said of the orphanage’s inhabitants. They don’t speak English, but it doesn’t matter.”
There is no Jewish community in Haiti, though this trip is not about religion, said Landay. “When kids are sick and dying, and they haven’t eaten in three days, it’s about saving children.”
Landay has a history of volunteering for charitable causes. An active member of Aleph Institute, a nonprofit organization that helps Jewish prisoners, he often hires ex-offenders at his appliance business on the South Side of Pittsburgh. He also coordinates drug and alcohol recovery group meetings and is on the probation committee for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Taylor, a sophomore at Allderdice High School, said she wanted to go on this mission with her father, both for the experience and for the message it sends to other teenagers.
“Most teenagers my age don’t know there is another world out there that is so poor and underprivileged,” she said.
Her goal is to “be able to come back, tell my friends about it, share my experiences, and get them more involved.”
Landay, who returns on the first day of Rosh Hashana, said that he cleared this trip with his rabbi.
“I daven every day and I plan to daven in Haiti,” he said, joking that he will probably be the only person on the beach donning a tallit and tefillin.
“What better mitzvah can I do than to help these children?” He asked.
(Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)