ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Katrina @ 5 - May We Celebrate

As we approach the five year anniversary since that pivotal time in our city's history, I'd like share some of my musings with you.

There is no question that Katrina was a most devestating experience. The destruction of not just a city but a region. The loss of life. The loss of property and possessions. The exile of hundreds of thousands of people. The loss of history and knowing that some things will just never be the same.

Yet, looking at the situation 5 years later, it appears that many positive things evolved from the storm. First and foremost, the millions of acts of kindness during and just after Katrina. We were all recipients of so much goodness from so many groups and individuals. The raising of social awareness and the social response in the form of new groups, organizations, non-profits who are involved in the rebuilding and reinvention of New Orleans. Economic growth, the success of the charter school system, the young blood looking to be a part of an historical resurgence. A new political climate with less tolerance for corruption. Greater focus on the environmental issues that contributed to the impact of Katrina, such as the wetlands and coastal errosion.

So the question is, how do we celebrate the progress with being insensitive to the loss? Need we feel guilty that these improvements were seemingly made "on the backs" of those who lost their lives or their property or their stability?

There is a parallel in Jewish history for this issue. The destruction of the 2nd Temple resulted our long and bitter exile. We have been persecuted in every imagineable way by every group on earth. Yet, the greatest developments in Torah have taken place in exile. The Mishna was compiled after the Temple's destruction. The Talmud was authored in Babylonia. The fundemental works of Kabbala were transcribed in the period of exile. The great teachings of Jewish philosophy came to us in exile. The Baal Shemtov and the doctrines of Chasidism came to in times of great persecution. Rambam, Rashi and so many others taught in times of great peril.

Perhaps it can be argued that the worst of times brings out people's best efforts. Either way we look at it the same question is there. How can we revel in the great developments that came on the back of the great losses?

At the end of the day, as people of faith, we are obliged to live in the paradox. On one hand we must ackowledge the loss but at the same time we need to do everything we can and "utilize every crisis" to come out on the other side better and stronger. Finally we need beseech G-d in prayer that He end the paradox of exile so we can have the best of both worlds, peace and tranquility on one hand, and progress and development on the other hand.

There was an ignorant farmer who came to town for Rosh Hashanah. Being illiterate he was unable to follow the prayers. So he spent his time looking around the room at others (sound familiar). When it came time for the blowing of the Shofar he observed everyone crying. He thought to himself, "they must be hungry like me so they are crying that the service is so long." Soon the crying ceased and thought, "they must realize that the longer the food cooks the more tender the meat will be so they are willing to wait to eat." Then at a high point in the service they were crying again. He mused "true the food gets better but how long can we wait." 

A Chasidic master used this parable in talking about the progress within exile. True there are positive developments but it has been taking way too long. 

I hope to see you at the community celebration this Saturday night at 9 PM at the New Orleans JCC. We celebrate our PROGRESS 5 years after the storm. 

I also want to welcome Dr. Yehudah Guterman to New Orleans. He is beginning a residency at LSU and we wish him much success. 

Welcome Home

This past week, during my monthly visit to the Federal Correctional Center in Oakdale, LA, I saw something that I had not seen over the 12 years that I have been going there. I saw a child. This child was standing just outside the prison gates holding a balloon that read Welcome Home! I surmised that her father was being released from prison and she was there to welcome him and bring him home.

As I thought about this incident in light of the Baal Shemtov's instruction to derive a lesson from every encounter in life, I realized that the "Welcome Home Balloon" sums up the month of Elul. The great master of Kabbala, Rabbi Isaac Luria, uses the analogy of a safe haven or "city of refuge" when describing the month of Elul. All year, he explains, we are in the clutches of, or at least being pursued by, our evil inclination. We struggle with our drive toward things that counter the will of G-d. The month of Elul is a safe haven - a refuge from those struggles. A time when we focus on and strengthen our connection to G-d.

It is as if G-d stands at the "gates of Elul" with a balloon that reads "Welcome Home." Indeed the famous parable of the "King in the Field" conveys this very idea. That our King - G-d comes out to the field and greets us with a smile that says, "Welcome Home."

Just as it is the hope that the little girl's father will not return to the circumstances that led him to prison, so to we need to see to it that the our "Welcome Home" from G-d will help us be "home" for good. 

Our high holiday website is up and running. Join the millions that utilize the many features of the site to help prepare for the upcoming holidays by visiting

We are all Believers

Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to participate in a discussion with Israeli Police Major General Uri Bar-Lev, who was in New Orleans this week. During the meeting the talk turned to the situation with Iran's nuclear development. General Bar-Lev gave a very insightful analysis of the problem along with the options for resolution. He described the issue of how small Israel is and how devestating an attack would be. He described Israel's military capabilities and experience with dealing with attacks. Toward the end of his analysis he looked in my direction of said with a sincere smile "and of course we have to pray to G-d."

As I thought about this discussion later, I realized that his comment about prayer embodied a statement by our sages in the Talmud that "all Jews are Maaminim bnei Maaminim - believers, the children of believers." Here is an accomplished military man, who is not religiously observant (based on his gastronomic itinerary in NOLA), yet in wrapping up a discussion about a military matter, he invokes prayer to G-d as a component to dealing with this threat.

This brought to mind one of the central liturgical hymns we recite during the High Holidays, V'chol Maaminim - and all believe. Watching this in action one can truly declare "Mi K'amcha Yisrael - G-d, who is like Your nation, the people of Israel?"

We also had the pleasure of attending the Nemes-Ceitlin wedding this week. There was a wonderful blend of locals and out of town guests joyously dancing with each other like old friends. It was a beautiful Simcha and we wish the bride and groom a happy and fulfilling life together as they build their branch of the Jewish nation.

We welcome Sara and Yehuda Halper, who just moved to NOLA from Israel. Yehuda will be teaching at Tulane University this year.

The question of the week for this Shabbat's Kiddush Club is: Which Mitzvah cannot, under any circumstances, be performed with Kavana - intent?

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