As we toured the devastation caused by Katrina seven years after the fact, Hurricane Sandy was wreaking havoc on the East Coast. What a timely and poignant reminder of the power of natural disasters to obliterate, and the incredible will and resilience of their victims to rebuild. That was the lesson emblazoned on the hearts of the 14 men who joined me on The Jewish Federation’s Men’s Mission to New Orleans the beginning of November.
Good food, incredible entertainment and famous mixed drinks; New Orleans has a reputation as a city that knows how to party. I am witness to it as a city that knows how to heal.
In our exploration of the Jewish south, we were first met at the airport by Jackie Gothard who was president of Congregation Beth Israel when Katrina hit. She regaled us with photos and stories of her schul under water, seven Torah scrolls ruined and ultimately buried, 3,000 prayer books rendered useless. She and her son, Edward, who is Beth Israel’s president today, were so joyous in sharing their newly rebuilt synagogue, just reopened in August, where all of us celebrated Shabbat. She told us that the first community to respond to their tragic circumstance post-Katrina was Los Angeles, replacing the first of their beloved Torahs. I remember making that emergency donation – money well spent.
We toured the famed 9th Ward and other areas caught up in Katrina’s destruction, and then we got busy. Power tools in hand we joined Habitat for Humanity and experienced the fervor of literally rebuilding a community, working on two homes that will soon shelter New Orleans families in need. It was exhilarating.
Of course, we were ever mindful of what was happening on the East Coast during our visit. We were heartened to hear almost immediately that our Federation was taking emergency donations to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. And perhaps seven years from now, someone else from Los Angeles will visit Staten Island or stroll through some New Jersey neighborhood and learn how their contribution made a tangible impact. It’s an indescribable feeling.
Click here for information or to donate The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.