Katrina @ 8 - NOLA Jewish

Thursday, 29 August, 2013 - 6:26 pm

This year August 29th falls during the month of Elul (unlike in 2005 and other years when it is in Av). It has been 8 years since the destruction wrought on our city and region by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. As we reflect on the storm along with the amazing story of recovery that we have experienced, we must do so in Elul mode – with a sense of accounting.

With regards to the Jewish community, much has been written and said about the population rebound as well as the community’s ability to maintain and even grow our institutions. According to data gathered by the Jewish Federation we have returned to or even exceeded pre-storm numbers. This is a great achievement. Their efforts to market and represent the NOLA Jewish community have been successful in attracting many new people to our community. The financial support of the American Jewish community during those first years was a major factor in the survival and now rebounding of the NOLA Jewish community. Lastly, hard work and great effort was invested by each individual institution to ensure survival, rebounding and now growth.

I would like to reflect on the state of a particular element of the New Orleans Jewish community – the life that a Torah observant Jew can experience in New Orleans. There are several pillars (in no particular order) to Torah observant life that makes a person or family dependent on community. The opportunity to worship as part of a community. The availability of Kosher food. The existence of a Mikvah. The opportunity to study with others as part of a shiur. The camaraderie and support of other like-minded individuals. The presence of Rabbis who can teach, counsel, conduct life cycle events and inspire. Accessibility of Torah observant Jewish education. This is all in addition to the amazing benefits of being part of the broader community.

The New Orleans Jewish community meets all of those requirements. Some come with a struggle and some are provided for more amply. There are Shuls of many stripes that offer Shabbat and holiday services so that almost anyone can feel comfortable in one of them. There are new Shuls and vintage Shuls. There is an Eruv in Metairie and another in the works for New Orleans. There is a daily Minyan for Shachrit, Mincha and Maariv hosted by the two Chabad Shuls. (Though in the interest of Elul reckoning, the Minyan can use some support – feel free to participate!!!)

We have several Kosher establishments, the newest being the Peacebaker, and Kosher food is readily available. There is a well-established and respected Kashrut agency, the LKC that oversees the Kashrut of many establishments and catering events around town.

There is a beautiful Mikvah, whose recently completed facility was dedicated by Lee and Steve Rittvo. Since the completion of the Mikvah several years ago, participation and attendance has increased each year.

There are numerous learning opportunities, both public and private Shiurim, that are offered all over town. There are weekly and monthly classes, lecture series and wonderful courses that appeal to every level of Jewish knowledge. They range from Hebrew reading to advanced Talmud and Chassidic thought, as well as everything in between.

There are warm and energetic Rabbis – both younger and older, more experienced Rabbis - and wonderful friends that welcome anyone with open arms. There are chessed committees and lots of plain old Ahavat Yisrael abounds everywhere.

TA_Aug201_0013[2].jpgTA_Aug201_0001[1].jpgTorah Academy has been the Torah observant school for the New Orleans Jewish community since 1993. Though Katrina dealt the school a blow in terms of population and the facility, the school has remained open and committed to educating Jewish children in the ways of our Torah throughout the tough times. Torah Academy is on the cusp of a new era. A new facility is going up on West Esplanade Ave off Transcontinental. A young new executive director, Rabbi Michael Kerendian, has been hired and is moving to New Orleans later this year to oversee the rebound of this important pillar of the NOLA community. (See the photos of the construction taken by @Alexander Barkoff.)

8 years after Katrina, we have a lot to be proud of and there is also much left to be done to make things even better. Working together we can continue to ensure that New Orleans is a wonderful place to live for Jewish people until that long awaited moment when Mashiach takes us all of out of exile with the complete and final redemption very soon.

Shabbat Shalom and L’shana Tova to all.
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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