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Katrina Plus 10

Thursday, 27 August, 2015 - 4:08 pm

It was a hot day in late August and we found ourselves heading west toward Houston. But no, I am not describing an evacuation in 2005 but rather a trip to Houston in 2015 for a wonderful purpose. Malkie and I, along with a nice New Orleans contingent, were in Houston this week for the wedding of Chana Kaufmann and Yaakov Hellinger. While Chana is a native of New Orleans, her wedding was held in Houston where her father, Dr. David Kaufmann, is undergoing medical treatment. May Hashem grant him a complete and speedy recovery so that he and Nechama can resume their lives as Shluchim in the New Orleans Jewish community.

In addition to celebrating with the Kaufmanns, the wedding was an opportunity to once again express our deep appreciation for the amazing kindness and hospitality that the Houston community showed us during those trying days, weeks and months after Katrina. To be back there just days before the 10th anniversary of the storm was both uncanny and at the same time ironically appropriate. The wedding was a wonderful reunion of two communities joined together by tragedy but kept together by kindness and caring.

Speaking of the 10 year mark, I am acutely aware that there some, perhaps many, for whom the notion of celebrating, or even marking, the 10th anniversary of the storm and the subsequent rebirth of our region, is quite disturbing. This is perfectly understandable. Katrina was a horrific tragedy that left thousands dead, tens of thousands homeless and hundreds of thousands with destroyed property and quality of life. We are speaking of the destruction of a city and a region. The loss of life, property and population. The loss of history and knowing that some things will never be the same.

At the same time, I believe that those (and there are many) that can bring themselves to take a look back at the positives that came forth in the aftermath of Katrina, have an obligation to do so and be thankful. Last week this forum was used to highlight and thank those who aided us, our people and our region during and after the storm. This week I would like to highlight the growth and development since the storm.

There were millions of acts of kindness. We were all recipients of so much goodness from so many. There is the raising of social awareness and the new groups and non-profits that are involved in the rebuilding and reinvention of New Orleans. There is the economic growth, success of the charter schools, and young blood looking to be a part of an historical resurgence. We have a political climate with less tolerance for corruption. There is now a greater focus on environmental issues like wetlands and coastal erosion.

The Jewish community has come out strong and there are many new initiatives and wonderful developments in our greater New Orleans Jewish community. Much will be written over the weekend and we will celebrate our resilience and rebirth at the Katrina @ 10 community celebration this Sunday afternoon 5-7 PM at the Uptown JCC.

On the Chabad front, every single Chabad institution was either renovated, rebuilt or constructed in the last ten years. We have a restored Chabad Center in Metairie. A newly constructed Rohr Chabad Student Center at Tulane. A beautiful Mikvah at the Ringger Center for Women’s Enrichment. A rebuilt Btesh Family Chabad House in Uptown. A newly established Chabad presence on the MS Gulf Coast (Fall 2014), and a brand new Chabad presence in Baton Rouge. These five Chabad institutions are staffed by ten Shluchim couples (see http://www.chabadneworleans.com/templates/blog/post.asp?aid=1203266&PostID=55793&p=1).

The Chabad Hebrew School in Metairie is off to a successful new year. Camp Gan Israel had a nice renewal this year. The Living Legacy Series, underwritten by the Woldenberg Foundation, has reached hundreds of children from Lake Charles to Biloxi. Chabad at Tulane is serving an unprecedented number of students, both undergrad and graduates (who now have their own program). Chabad Young Jewish Professionals is offering programming to the many young people who are swarming to our community. Chabad’s holiday programs are attracting record crowds each year. This is just a sample of the post-K development.

Torah Academy, which was founded by Chabad in 1993, with a 2005 school year enrollment of 60, was slammed by the storm. The facility was damaged, families left and devastation remained. 10 years later with a brand new facility, a diverse board and broad Rabbinic advisory committee, Torah Academy is becoming a school for the community. The 2015 school year began with over 40 children enrolled and a lot of positive energy. We are looking forward to continued growth and development.

We have much be thankful for and a lot from which to be inspired and propelled toward additional progress!

Mazel Tov Rabbi Mendy and Rachel Traxler upon the birth of their daughter Chana. Mazel tov to the grandparents, Dr. David and Nechama Kaufmann.

Mazel Tov to Stephen and Mery Blitz upon the bris of their son Rachamim Yehudah.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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