Our Katrina Gratitude

Friday, 21 August, 2015 - 12:59 am

As the Katrina @ 10 anniversary looms closer many people are utilizing the opportunity to talk about the growth and development of New Orleans and the region since the storm. Every angle is being explored – the general community, the Jewish community, there is even a great four part series the did this week on Chabad of Louisiana. (See below in the news section.) This is a good thing. We need to highlight the positives that have come forth despite all of the losses and suffering associated with the storm. G-d willing next week, I will indulge in some of that as well.

But I think that before we engage in back patting (I don’t mean that sarcastically) it behooves us to also express our gratitude to those who helped us through the dark and difficult days thereby enabling us to reach the 10 year milestone with such wonderful results.

I would like to take a few moments to thank those that helped Chabad of Louisiana and our community in the aftermath of Katrina. Inevitably when one creates a list there are worthy people that are omitted and I therefore beg forgiveness from those whom I will unwittingly omit.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Jewish community got its experience in contemporary disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina. Those relief efforts then became the textbook for all subsequent disaster responses.

The Chabad centers that are located in the ring around New Orleans (Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and others) welcomed members of our community before, during and after the hurricane. Chabad of Houston, under the leadership of Rabbi and Mrs. Shimon Lazaroff and their fellow Shluchim, were amazingly hospitable. They opened up their homes and their institutions to our families. They set up and furnished temporary housing and absorbed our children into their school. We were able to set up a temporary office and “Chabad of Louisiana in exile” to serve our fellow NOLA Jews. We thank Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, Rabbi Marinowsky, Rabbi Traxler, the Gavin family, the Amber family and many more who were so involved.

Chabad World HQ partnered with us to set up a three phase response. The first was Search and Rescue. Two SAR teams were hired by Chabad and were dispatched to the NOLA area along with a pair of Yeshiva students, Levi Shmotkin and Mendel Druk. The teams saved dozens of lives (including elderly folks whose family members contacted us and asked for help in rescuing them). They also removed the Torahs and essential equipment from NOLA Chabad centers to get them out of harm’s way. The second was a relief team that was sent to Southern Mississippi and another to Baton Rouge. The third was a fund raising effort that generated significant funds allowing us to help many people financially after the storm. It also enabled Chabad to continue to function through the end of 2005. Rabbis Krinsky, Kotlarsky, Scharfstein and Berkowitz and their associates were very dedicated to assisting in any way that they could. We also thank the Rohr family for their generosity then and since then.

The fund raising effort was successful because hundreds of Chabad centers around the world encouraged people to contribute. The outpouring of support and care was something to which every Katrina survivor can attest. Many Chabad centers and other national organizations such as OU, Agudah, AJC, NCYI and regional federations and congregations were supportive of Chabad’s fundraising effort.

In Baton Rouge the home base was an apartment given to Chabad for use by Hank Mann, who has since become a very good friend. In Houston a truck arrived with supplies sent by the Ramaz school community (who later sent a relief mission to New Orleans under the leadership of Deedee Benel). NOLA folks came shopping in our garage where the supplies were dropped off.

That Rosh Hashanah a retreat was arranged in Monroe for NOLA folks. The Hakim family of Monroe were very hospitable and we set up shop at their Atrium hotel. Over 100 people participated.

Chabad on Campus sent two groups for relief missions in late 2005 and early 2006. Subsequently many groups have volunteered for hurricane relief and rebuilding here in New Orleans.

The UJC (now known as JFNA) stepped forward in early 2006 and undertook to subsidize all NOLA region Jewish organizations for two years through the end of 2007. We thank the professional and lay leadership of the UJC for that amazing salvation, which enabled us to survive and even thrive. I want to single out Howard Feinberg for his devotion. The NOLA Jewish community had the chance to express gratitude during the 2010 GA that was hosted by our city. This generosity was facilitated locally by the NOLA Federation under the leadership of Alan Bissinger, Alan Franco, Eric Stillman, Bobby Garon, Roselle Ungar, Mike Wasserman, Julie Wise Oreck, Michael Weil and others.

Finally there were thousands of individuals who called, visited, contributed and took an interest in the welfare of our community over the last 10 years. Together all of these large and small acts of kindness created a tidal wave of goodness and love that have propelled our community, city and region to amazing heights. They have each had a part in this story and we thank every last one of them. We couldn't have done it without you.

Mazal Tov to Mery and Stephen Blitz upon the birth of their son.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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